Confirmation bias and relationships


I decided that I would, indeed, post my thoughts on confirmation bias. Have you heard of it?

It’s selective thinking: you’re looking for and only notice things that confirm your belief; you ignore the things that don’t support those beliefs; and you have a preconception about something so you only see what corroborates your stance.

Here’s an example:

Somebody says, “It’s ALWAYS 11:11 when I look at the time.”

This isn’t actually true. They read all sorts of different times as they check the clock throughout the day, but the moment that they see it read 11:11, that clicks, and then they NOTICE. “It’s 11:11 AGAIN.” The just didn’t notice when they checked at 9:08 that morning.

Other easy examples to share would be with religion and politics. But that is not the area in which I’ve been thinking about confirmation bias.

I’ve been thinking about it in terms of relationships: coworkers, friends, and family (perhaps because a family vacation is LOOMING).

My relationship with another person (a friend, sibling, etc), may be emotionally charged. I have a blind spot and that could cause a good relationship to turn dysfunctional. I blame my brain and all of its pattern recognizing that it does. LOOK! PATTERNS!

I suppose that Brain is trying to help me survive. Brain is attempting to give me lightning-fast reactions so that I can judge and respond accordingly. Thank you for your good efforts, Brain.

BUT, I want to try to be more in line with the way things actually ARE and not fall back on MY bias for how I respect and perceive my relationships with others. Here’s what I’m thinking I want to work on:

  1. Stop and think: If I’m mindful of my own biases, perhaps I can better learn to see what’s there and not what I’ve already DECIDED is there.
  2. Practice being kind: I’m not thinking about obvious kindnesses, but the more subconscious kindnesses such as what I THINK when I see an overweight person out for a jog. In my head, I hope that I’m saying, “You rock and keep it up.”
  3. Ask my husband to keep me in check: he will see things differently than me and I trust him to be honest and bring me back to my senses. And I know that is a stable relationship to put this kind of expectation on.
  4. Don’t try to win arguments: so there’s this story about a bunch of monks bugging Buddha about people in the local area saying that he was not a moral person so his monks were not good monks. They asked him what they should do and he replied, “First, you should consider whether or not this is true.”
  5. Appreciate my relationships: I work with and know and am related to some straight up fantastic people.

Finally, I liked this list that I found on the ol’ internets about what I should NOT do when someone ELSE has a confirmation bias:

  • Don’t assume they know they are in the wrong. It’s possible they believe they are in the right because it FEELS right, even if it is not logically right.
  • Don’t get into an argument or circular conversation [arguments which go on endlessly, repeating the same patterns]. If they are making decisions based on their feelings, they are unlikely to change their mind until after their feelings change.
  • Don’t blame yourself or look for a reason why people believe illogical things.
  • Don’t thought police [attempt to control another’s thoughts or feelings] or try to force anyone to think the way you do. It’s OK to allow somebody else to continue to believe something inaccurate, as long as nobody is being abused as a result.

And that, my friends, is the end of my random, cognitive/behavioral science ramblings. Back to your regularly-scheduled living.

4 thoughts on “Confirmation bias and relationships

  1. brilliant. I love this topic. Even though I can’t quite relate since obviously I’m not foolish enough to fall prey to any sort of bias–confirmation or otherwise *cough*. no but seriously, this is such a tough one because even knowing that no one is the exception to the rule on this one, it’s still really hard to even acknowledge it when it comes to myself. much less do a decent job at figuring out what all my various biases might be…quite the daunting task you’ve set out for yourself. Your list on what NOT to do regarding other people in this matter is especially good.


  2. I have been trying to be more aware of my perspective and bias lately, too! I love how this makes so much sense and would really help everyone in their relationships, but is sometimes so hard to implement. My logical and emotional sides certainly struggle somedays to find balance.


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