Avoiding Confirmation Bias

What is confirmation bias? Here is a quick definition from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.” Although confirmation bias is typically unintentional, it is strong and widespread, with many significant effects and real-world implications.

Impact on Searching

Some psychologists describe as the selective collection of evidence that supports what one already believes, while ignoring or rejecting evidence that supports a different conclusion. Experiments have found repeatedly that people tend to test hypotheses in a one-sided way, by searching for evidence consistent with their current beliefs. Rather than searching through all the relevant evidence, they phrase questions to receive an answer that supports their theory.

One of the primary types of confirmation bias is the biased search for information. When you type a search or a question into Google, you will want to be careful that your choice of keywords does not unintentionally reflect a bias towards preexisting beliefs, or towards a particular preconceived answer.

Examples

A search for “is rent control unfair to landlords” is likely to get results that describe rent control as unfair to landlords. A better search might be something like “rent control landlords”

Google search for "is rent control unfair to landlords" shows top result titled "Why Rent Control is Unfair and Hurts Landlords"

A search for “are immigrants hurting the economy” is likely to get results that argue that immigrants hurt the economy. A better search might be something like “economic effects of immigration”

Google search for "are immigrants hurting the economy" shows results titled "Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers" and "How Unskilled Immigrants Hurt Our Economy"

Sources

Casad, Bettina J. “Confirmation Bias.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1 Aug. 2016.

Impact on Searching adapted from “Confirmation bias” by Wikipedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Page adapted from “Library 10” by Cabrillo College Library, licensed under CC BY 4.0

License

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Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.