If you actively pursue the truth, confirmation bias is lurking. According to journalist and self-styled psychology nerd David McRaney, each one of us wants “to be right about how [we] see the world, so [we] seek out information which confirms [our] beliefs and [we] avoid contradictory evidence and opinions.” This is confirmation bias in a nutshell.
Mindfulness and Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is a barrier to self knowledge. Fortunately, we can become more conscious of this bias through meditation practice. It can be difficult. Yet, in meditation, we willingly learn to see our negative, shadow-stuff right along with our positive qualities. This takes self-empathy. And only through empathy do we learn to extend compassion to ourselves fully. As a result, we’re able to make friends with ourselves. Consequently, this work in meditation and mindfulness helps us moderate our confirmation bias and extend empathy to others as we seek to resolve the conflicts we unavoidably meet in the society.
Mindfulness, Confirmation Bias, Reason
Here’s an example of how confirmation bias works in the social arena. Valdis Krebs is a social network researcher. Krebs studied book buying trends on Amazon during the 2008 presidential election. He discovered that, overwhelmingly, people who already supported Obama bought books that portrayed Obama positively. Those who opposed Obama bought books that highlighted Obama’s negatives.
Again, what Krebs’ research shows is that people do not seek evidence that contradicts their cherished opinions. Contrariwise, people seek evidence that confirms the opinions they already cherish. Consequently, confirmation bias keeps us isolated in our group, clinging to our sense of rightness, unwilling to hear the views of those with whom we differ.
Yet, to be sure, we can moderate confirmation bias with mindful practice. We can learn to look at our own opinions without judgment, in an unbiased, more objective way. We can learn to seek evidence that might disconfirm our cherished beliefs and opinions. This way of looking, taught by the Buddha and by Patanjali, is also the way of science. “In science,” writes McRaney, “you move closer to the truth by seeking evidence to the contrary.”
Here’s a link to a user friendly article by David McRaney on confirmation bias: youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/
Confirmation Bias and Narcissism
In reality, we humans are not so rational as we are super-social. In a big way, it’s only through the opinions and values of our group that we “know” and feel our “individual” place in the world. So, our sense of self, and of what is reasonable, fashionable, edible, just, and right is profoundly shaped, not by our conscious reasoning, but by our social conditioning. Hence, our sense of self is largely the feeling that we differ from other individuals and groups outside our group.
The Yogi and Confirmation Bias
Explicitly, the task of the yogi, whether she is practicing Yoga or Buddhism or both, is to see the contingency and fragility of this conditioning. Only then might she overcome the self’s prideful grasping and clinging to its self, and its sense of separateness in the world. This is the heart of practice. In line with this, the humanistic psychologist Erich Fromm said that the core teachings of the world’s religions can be summed up in one sentence: “It is the goal [of humanity] to overcome one’s narcissism.”
Simply put, narcissism is the inability to empathize with the concerns of others. Notably, empathy is the antidote to narcissism. It asks us to objectively open our hearts to those who are different. Moreover, empathy asks us to entertain alternative evidence and contradictory perspectives as we work to resolve social conflicts. It asks us to concede that we could be wrong, that the evidence upon which our opinions are based might not necessarily be so.
Empathy is at the heart of non violence. Yet both the fear that we’ll lose ourselves or our standing with our group together with our innate confirmation bias makes empathy and listening difficult. Consequently, this is a reason to practice.
Here’s a link to a brief, yet extremely useful video on why empathy, and not facts, is the key to bridging the chasms that can sometimes separate us: facebook.com/sogoodnow/videos/686990368151497/?hc_ref=ARSon_mcjPo2Jz-K2HEBNkKtnQiLbgbEV6Hz8ndUSpD9y-VBGQsG_VTRLqFCyQZ0KaU&pnref=story
Here are links to other posts about cognitive bias on sweepingheartzen.org: sweepingheartzen.org/category/buddhist-practice/cognitive-bias/negativity-bias-cognitive-bias/
Enjoy this beautiful day and the rest of your week!