Menu

What is Confirmation Bias?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 31, 2021

Confirmation bias is a psychological term for the human tendency to only seek out information that supports one position or idea. This causes you to have a bias towards your original position because if you only seek out information that supports one idea, you will only find information that supports that idea. This is in opposition to doing more comprehensive research that would expose you to opposing ideas.

Different Kinds of Confirmation Bias

There are a few different types of confirmation bias.

Biased search. This type of bias occurs when you do research and only look for information that supports your theory or hypothesis. In our modern era, search engines help us with this biased tendency.

For example, if you search for a question with two variables such as "Is renting better than buying?" you will be served search results that support renting a home over buying one. If you search the opposite question: "Is buying better than renting?" you will get search results that support buying.

Biased interpretation. This type of bias explains why you may tend to interpret data and information in a way that supports your opinion or hypothesis, regardless of the position supported by the data.

Studies show that people tend to stick to their beliefs, even when presented with new data, because they interpret this new data in a way that supports their original opinion.

Biased memories. This refers to a biased recall of memories. Studies show that you may remember events that support an idea you have more than ones that disprove it. Some experts believe your brain may even store information that agrees with your views more frequently than information that disproves them.

This type of bias is part of what maintains stereotypes. Even if an individual person doesn't fit every stereotype of their cultural group, you might be more likely to remember things about them that support existing stereotypes.

Why Does Confirmation Bias Exist?

Experts have several different theories about why people tend to have confirmation bias. 

Helps to process information. Some people believe that confirmation bias helps you sort efficiently through the large amount of information you see every day.

Builds confidence. Other experts think that people seek out information to support their opinions to preserve or build their self-esteem. Finding information that supports their ideas makes them feel more confident.

Reduces mental conflict. Another theory about why people use confirmation bias is that it reduces the risk of mental conflict, also called cognitive dissonance. When someone holds or has information about two opposite ideas, they may experience psychological stress. Confirmation bias may lower the risk of feeling the negative emotions from this stress.

The Importance of Recognizing Confirmation Bias

It's important to recognize confirmation bias, especially in this modern internet era, where people are constantly faced with more information than ever before. Confirmation bias has the potential to shape your view of the world. It can affect everything from political views to hiring practices in workplaces.

How to Reduce the Impact of Confirmation Bias

To diminish the effects of confirmation bias, you can do more thorough research. When searching for information, make sure to:

  • Read entire articles
  • Don't make a judgment about an article based only on the headline
  • Analyze articles for reliable evidence to support the argument being made
  • If necessary, do further research on the evidence presented to make sure it is trustworthy
  • Consider researching opposing ideas

Other Psychological Phenomena Related to Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is not the only psychological tendency that can affect your worldview.

The backfire effect. This theory states that when you are presented with an opposing opinion, you may double down and strongly commit to your position. Luckily, research shows that while this phenomenon may affect individual people, it does not have an effect on fact-checkers. These are people whose job it is to verify information found in the media.

The halo effect. This psychological phenomenon occurs when you allow one trait of something, whether it is a person, a brand, or something else, to overshadow a more nuanced impression of the entity in a positive manner. For example, if you perceive someone as generous, you may automatically assume they are also a caring person. 

Group attribution bias. This type of bias occurs when you assume a member of a cultural group has stereotypical qualities of that group. The qualities include general preferences and political views. For example, you might incorrectly assume that someone who belongs to a specific political party voted for that party's presidential candidate.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: "confirmation bias," "group attribution error."

Full Fact: "Does the “backfire effect” exist—and does it matter for factcheckers?"

Simply Psychology: "Confirmation Bias," "Why the Halo Effect Affects How We Perceive Others."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info