Home > Cognitive Bias, Decision Making > There is a monster under your bed, and I have evidence to confirm it.

There is a monster under your bed, and I have evidence to confirm it.

Not all princesses need saving, it has been confirmed. (Image 1)

You are a hero, off on an adventure. Riding on horseback, glorious as you are, you see a dragon in the distance. It is wrapped around a twisting tower and a fair maiden gazes down from the window up above. This is your chance, you know she needs saving, so you ride closer to get a better look. Exactly as you thought, the maiden looks sad, almost wistful, and you know she is dreaming of escaping this terrible beast. With a flash of your sword and the pure strength of your muscles to climb the tower, you kill the beast and finally reach the princess. To your surprise, she does not look pleased. You explain that you have saved her from the terrible dragon which kept her imprisoned, as if this really requires explaining. Astonishingly, she admonishes you! She tells you with great anger that the dragon was her beloved pet and she did not need saving. You look back on the events which occurred and explain to her that she did, in fact, need saving, because she looked so sad and wistful in the tower, clearly longing for sweet escape. Yet, as she soon points out, she was not sad due to imprisonment, but because her “Do Not Feed The Dragon” sign had fell from the castle wall, which you could now clearly see was laying on the lawn in visible sight the entire time. Yet even after she points out this contradictory information, you stick to your guns and tell her she must be delusional from the time she has spent in the tower, and saving her was the only option. So, what caused you to vindicate your decision by addressing only the evidence which made you believe the princess needed rescuing while completely disregarding the clear information which demonstrated otherwise? It is the real monster that needs slaying, and its name is Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias affects our decision making by facilitating our attentional resources towards evidence confirming what we already believe to be true. When one demonstrates prejudice towards a certain outcome or decision prior to gathering all of the information available on this topic, one is inclined to only address the information which confirms their predictions while ignoring conflicting evidence which may hold more gravity. Therefore, confirmation bias results in a disregard for contradictory evidence and reasoning (Jonas et al., 2001).

Confirmation bias is one of the most dangerous types of cognitive biases– a silent but deadly monster which lurks in the shadows but affects us daily. When you had slain the dragon under the assumption that the fair maiden must be in harm’s way, your partial opinions of the situation caused you to attend only to the aspects present which vindicated your decisions, such as the seemingly weary look upon the maiden’s face. This brings about an important area in which confirmation bias has been known to play a role: social stereotyping. You assumed the maiden was in trouble and in need of saving; where does this assumption come from? Confirmation bias often works hand in hand with top-down processing, the phenomenon most likely behind our original assumptions which confirmation bias then aims to prove. Top-down processing refers to the psychological process in which past experiences, as well as biases, affect how one perceives new stimuli. When the media or societal culture purports a certain view of people grouped by gender, race, or some other superficial factor, confirmation bias can cause outsiders to view these groups as they are depicted without forming their own unbiased observations. This is a very dangerous outcome of confirmation bias, as it can lead people to be wrongly judged on a basis of a mere stereotype rather than for personal merit (Johnston, 1996). When you came upon the princess high up in the tower, your top-down processing led you to stereotype her as to how princesses are represented in the media: helpless and in need of saving by a strong warrior such as yourself. Even after the evidence which she provided disproved your original assumptions, you continued to focus on her sad demeanor and used it to justify your actions. This is confirmation bias in effect as a result of social stereotyping.

The stereotypical bully, a confirmed sighting. (Image 2)

Another dangerous outcome resulting from confirmation bias can be seen in regards to eyewitness testimony. There are many flaws of memory which have been studied in accordance with eyewitness testimony. When information is being studied, such as taking note of the events at the scene of a crime, it is referred to as the encoding stage of memory. In the most simple terms, encoding means that visual, auditory, and other sensory stimuli are being processed by the brain and ingrained into one’s short term or long term memory stores so that they may later be recalled. Confirmation bias plays a role in this process as people will primarily encode the details which they were looking to notice in the first place, in effect confirming their own expectations of what would be present or occurring based on personal biases (Fradella, 2007). So how does confirmation bias relate directly to memory and eyewitness testimony? Well, again it works in accordance with top-down processing. For example, when you were riding on your stallion to the scene of the so-called kidnapping of the princess, your top-down processing on the basis of ‘helpless damsel in distress’ stereotypes led you to believe she needed help. After you had determined what you believed to be the state of the situation, your brain began to encode all information available that would support your assumptions. You noticed the teeth on the dragon and its sharp, vicious talons; surely these were proof enough that the beast was of malicious intent. After the princess takes you to court for killing her beloved pet, you would testify as to having witnessed that the dragon was equipped with dangerous features, clearly it was out to kill. Confirmation bias has prompted you to testify by recalling the encoded information which you had chosen to attend to based on your prior assumptions. Confirmation bias would also cause you to negate information which was present at the scene by limiting the encoding of this evidence into memory, such as the “Do Not Feed The Dragon” sign in the lawn, which may have indicated that it was a pet. Your disregard and lack of encoding for evidence which did not match your assumptions demonstrates the connection between the encoding process, top-down processing, and confirmation bias at work in regards to eyewitness testimony. Even when you were given evidence that suggested that the scene may not have been as you recalled and the dragon may have been harmless, you continued to negate these facts and focus solely on that which would confirm your original depiction of the scene when testifying.

That’s enough evidence for me, and I can confirm I’m not biased. (Image 3)

So in the end, what are we to do about this monster? Confirmation bias lies within us all, causing us to be blind to a plethora of information which is available and waiting to disprove our most precious assumptions. The only thing to do is remain open minded. Instead of using that mighty sword to cut down dragons, cut down barriers in encoding and recollection. Cut down the walls which keep you from addressing the information that does not support your assumptions of perceived stimuli. Cut through the evidence and seek not only what supports your claims but also that which falsifies them. The way to render confirmation bias helpless is to think of how you can take many pieces of evidence in order to come to a justified claim rather than presume a conclusion and then find evidence that will back it up. Slay the monster, be the hero, and eliminate confirmation bias once and for all. In order to get a different view point on confirmation bias, please see a similar blog post by another student linked here; see if you can confirm what you learned here, but don’t be biased.

Textual References

Fradella, H. F. (2007). Why judges should admit expert testimony on the unreliability of

        eyewitness testimony. The Federal Courts Law Review, 2, 7. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from

         http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/fecourtl2&div=4&g_sent=1&casa

         token=&collection=journals#

 

Johnston, L. (1996). Resisting change: information-seeking and stereotype change. European

       Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 799-825. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from

       https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(199609)26:53.0.CO;2-O.

 

Jonas, E., Schulz-Hardt, S., Frey, D., & Thelen, N. (2001). Confirmation bias in sequential

         information search after preliminary decisions: An expansion of dissonance theoretical

         research on selective exposure to information. Journal of Personality and Social

         Psychology, 80(4), 557-571. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.80.4.557

 

Visual References

Image 1. Found at: https://www.123rf.com/photo_12788535_princess-waiting-for-her-prince.html An image depicting a princess waiting in a tower.

Image 2. Found at: https://medium.com/@jahde/personal-experiences-with-confirmation-bias-e627a5f420f6 An image which depicts confirmation bias in accordance with social stereotyping and focusing on information which would confirm our preconceived views of others.

Image 3. Found at: https://www.ericgarland.co/2016/09/16/confirmation-bias-idiotic-links/ An image which depicts confirmation bias causing the disregard of information which does not support your claim while instead focusing solely on that which supports your beliefs.

  1. mrscho20
    May 13th, 2018 at 11:16 | #1

    This was a really interesting post! I liked how you incorporated the dragon and princess story throughout. It tied everything together nicely. Confirmation bias is definitely an important topic to be aware of, so I am glad that you covered it. I liked your connection between confirmation bias and eye witness testimony. It is interesting how when we use our top-down processes to make sense of a situation. Unfortunately, we are often not 100% correct in the assumptions we make (hence the killing of the princess’s beloved pet). This reminded me a lot of the weapons bias that we discussed in class. This bias occurs when we rely on our top-down processing, such as the fact that black men are more often portrayed by the media as violent. As a result, when shown a picture of a black man, we are more likely to mistake a tool for a weapon, in contrast to if we are shown a picture of a white man.

  2. May 17th, 2018 at 23:55 | #2

    This was such a fun post to read. It makes you think about how not everything is as it seems. The confirmation bias accounts for our need to have information validated, even if we make up those validations ourselves. Confirmation bias is most widely seen in stereotypes, as we take our prior knowledge and apply it to possibly inappropriate situations. A 2007 study done by Groopman highlights the possible overlap of the confirmation bias with the availability bias in the diagnosing of patients in a doctor’s office. For example, a doctor may prematurely decide on a diagnosis, and from that point on only test for those symptoms, in order to confirm their original diagnosis.

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