Confirmation Bias is All Around Us

Last week, President Trump delivered his State of the Union address. Below are excerpts from two leading journalistic outlets, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  Both excerpts are admittedly taken from articles that appeared on the respective paper’s editorial pages.

The word that came to mind most often as I watched Donald Trump deliver his first State of the Union address was “pretend.”

He pretends to be a statesman, and we’re supposed to pretend that hundreds of vulgar and recklessly divisive moments before this — thousands, if we’re adding tweets — don’t negate that claim.

Taken as a whole, the speech may represent an attempt by the president to change the capital’s tone—though critics will note that steps in that direction often have been upended in short order by presidential tweets and off-the-cuff remarks. He steered clear of some of the enemies who have been the targets of recent attacks, including the press and the leaders of his own government’s top law-enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Of course, The New York Times tends to lean to the left side of the political spectrum and The Wall Street Journal tends to lean right.  Most readers of each paper also share that paper’s political views.  Therein lies the problem we face: confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is a term psychologists and other social scientists use to describe the phenomenon that we look for evidence to support what we already believe.  If I think Trump is an idiot, I watch MSNBC and read The New York Times.  If I think Trump is great, I watch Fox News and read The WSJ.  I don’t look for evidence that is contrary to what I think and believe.  Clearly, confirmation bias contributes to the political rancor in the world today.

We don’t just have confirmation bias in politics.  We look for evidence to support our beliefs in every facet of our lives.  Think about work.  Do you engage with the same coworkers every day?  Do you avoid some colleagues because of a past experience without giving them a chance to show you what they can do?  Do you find yourself saying, “[Insert name here] always does that wrong?”  Think about what you believe to be true regarding your business.  Do you ever challenge those beliefs?  Examine the confirmation bias in your life.  You’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself.

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