What Is Confirmation Bias? (With Types and Examples)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated June 16, 2022 | Published January 3, 2022
Updated June 16, 2022
Published January 3, 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon that exists in both personal and professional capacities. This bias actively impacts decision-making by inclining you to focus on information unevenly. Understanding the answer to, "What is confirmation bias?" can help you make objective, fairly informed decisions in the workplace. In this article, we define confirmation bias, discuss the different types of this bias, explore examples, and delve into its impact in the workplace.
What is confirmation bias?
The answer to the important question, "What is confirmation bias?", is simple. It's the phenomenon of placing more value on information that reinforces your current opinion and disregarding data that doesn't agree with your beliefs. For example, consider believing that using pens in the workplace is appropriate and using pencils is not. With confirmation bias, if you see a pencil break during a meeting, you register it and add it to your existing belief that pencils are weak. If you observe a pen burst, you dismiss the observation as an outlier in a subconscious effort to protect your original belief.
Confirmation bias has two main aspects, dismissing information and favouring information. By placing more emphasis on data that agrees with existing beliefs, you solidify that idea further. The other aspect of confirmation bias is disregarding information that doesn't support your worldview. As with most cognitive biases, the subconscious controls most of the process unless you actively address it.
3 types of confirmation bias (with examples)
Confirmation bias takes different forms, depending on the individual and the situation. By identifying the different types of confirmation bias, you can control its impact on decision-making. The three types of confirmation bias include:
1. Biased information sourcing
Information sourcing bias is determining how to pursue information based on existing opinions. By seeking out evidence that supports your belief, you can disregard important evidence and have imbalanced test results. A common form of biased data collection is the way you phrase the question.
For instance, consider believing that office jobs are better than labour jobs. Cognitive bias is inputting this question into a search engine as, "Is an office job better than a labour job?". By phrasing the question this way, the result displays sites with content that favours office work more than sites that prefer labour positions. To avoid confirmation bias, you can reiterate the question as, "Is a labour job better than an office job?" Compare the two results and balance your data set to avoid information-sourcing bias.
2. Data interpretation bias
Biased interpretation involves perceiving data unevenly, with the resulting information impacting your analysis. This bias occurs with complex issues, where there are multiple ways you can interpret the information. A common occurrence involves researchers scrutinizing certain data more rigorously than others. Uneven data processing can cause incorrect results.
For example, consider believing that first-quarter sales are strong while third-quarter sales are weak. With this type of confirmation bias, if your trial-one data agrees with you and says that the company had good sales in the first quarter, you may not follow up. If your trial-two data disagrees with your opinion and indicates that the third quarter of the year produced superior sales, the bias causes you to scrutinize and reassess this data. To avoid this bias, ensure that you keep research and analytic practices consistent.
3. Memory bias
Biased memory is subconsciously recalling information differently based on how it impacts your beliefs. It involves remembering supportive details better than details that are inconsistent with your opinions. This bias type occurs both in memory recall and accuracy. This cognitive bias involves remembering ideas you agree with more clearly and more accurately recalling incidents that agree with your worldview.
An example involves reinforcing a stereotype. Consider thinking that staff in offices wear suits and labour workers wear denim. If you attempt to recall the images of office workers, you're likely to remember incidents where they also wore suits. When remembering labour staff, the bias causes you to focus on memories of them wearing denim. Addressing this bias involves becoming aware of it and using that knowledge as a safeguard when you interpret information.
Examples of confirmation bias at work
When you ask, "What is confirmation bias?" it's both a question of technical definitions and regular situations where bias occurs. These examples outline everyday situations where confirmation bias happens, along with how to address it:
Interviewing for a job
During a job interview, confirmation bias is common both for the interviewee and the prospective employer. How an interviewer perceives you can impact the questions they ask. If the interviewer has a bias and categorizes you with disorganized staff, the questions may focus on your time management skills. If you identify this bias during a job interview, address the question and pivot to a different topic.
Another scenario is when the interviewer thinks a professional appearance equates to someone willing to work overtime. An interviewer may assume you have this attribute, and may not enquire further because of the biased interpretation of your resume and appearance. During your interview, if you notice that the discussion avoids certain questions, addressing them can help mitigate the impacts of bias.
Read more: 17 Interview Tips to Help You Get the Job
During a salary negotiation, there is bias potential on both your part and that of management. For instance, if your worldview suggests that you qualify for a five-percent raise, you may not negotiate beyond that limit. The bias occurs if you disregard other factors and present yourself according to your confirmation bias. You can avoid this by conducting market research on similar situations to broaden your data set.
From management's perspective, there is bias potential both in memory and information sourcing. The interviewer may recall only giving out raises every year, favouring this information over the value you add to the company. When researching pay scales, information-sourcing bias can direct the manager to salaries more in line with their opinions. Prepare for the possibility of this bias ahead of time so you have the information necessary to mitigate the impact of bias.
Read more: How to Negotiate Salary (With Examples)
Employee evaluations often occur after the initial probationary period, proceeding annually thereafter. If you are a member of a department, bias can occur if the evaluator classifies you with that group. The bias results are attributing certain characteristics to you based on the group's behaviour, not yours individually. You can avoid this issue by itemizing your performance and highlighting your individual function in the role.
All three confirmation bias types occur in social situations, especially where a competitive component exists, such as peer assessments. For memory bias, coworkers may recall your shortcomings more clearly than successes to reinforce the belief that they are the best at the job. Sourcing bias happens when there is no set metric for success, while interpretation bias occurs when you use imbalanced information to complete the evaluation. You can avoid this through positive reinforcement and by strengthening soft skills.
Read more: Four Types of Communication (With Examples)
Controlling confirmation bias in decision making
Everyone has confirmation bias, meaning it can significantly impact your career. This psychological bias is present in job searches and interviews. To stop confirmation bias from having undue influence at work, you can try one of these approaches:
This method of avoiding confirmation bias involves following the steps you took to reach the conclusion. Identify any point where you inferred data instead of sourcing it objectively and note this as an opportunity for bias. This technique can have other names, such as the ladder technique. It directly identifies any bias so that you can address it before moving to the next step in the decision-making process.
A necessary tool to avoid confirmation bias is empathetic thinking. It involves considering the thoughts and feelings of individuals instead of applying a blanket assumption. The process considers socioeconomic and cultural parameters to inform opinions on human behaviour. This tool can help avoid stereotypes rooted in any of the three types of confirmation bias.
By shifting your perspective, you can gain a broader cross-section of information from multiple angles. Also called the six-hat method, to avoid bias, consider the decision using the following lenses:
The management lens focuses on the decision with a goal-oriented approach, seeking out the end result.
Use a creative lens to brainstorm different possibilities by observing the concept without judging it.
Emotional lenses rely on your instinct and feelings, letting you embrace your observations without logic.
The best-case scenario lens involves considering the decision from the most optimistic perspective.
The judgemental lens involves assessing potential risk by critically analyzing the possible answers.
Observing through a fact-based lens means using the information from the first steps, considering all the insights, and coming to a conclusion.
While there is no way to eliminate confirmation bias, using this six-step approach to make a decision can mitigate it. The process allows you to consider the information from different angles and to justify your final decision.
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