Good decisions play a key role in the long-term success and growth of the organization. But good decision making requires an objective mindset that is free from any biases. Individuals at all levels may have biases and assumptions that come into play while making important, business-critical decisions. These cognitive biases can lead to poor judgment, and convince them to stubbornly believe, without any doubt, that decisions taken based on their judgment are correct.
While many cognitive biases make one deny facts, data, and evidence, confirmation bias actually lets them refer to data, but cherry picks only the evidence that support their assumptions. This can hurt the organization. So, it is indispensable to study human behavior and address the confirmation bias of employees, especially that of the ones who are at the top of the hierarchy.
What is confirmation bias?
Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to look for information that supports their pre-existing beliefs, cherry-pick data and facts to suit their narrative, and interpret and selectively remember information in a way that confirms their assumptions. When you have confirmation bias, you will tend to:
- Search for information that will confirm your assumptions.
- Cherry pick data and facts to support your pre-existing beliefs.
- Interpret information to confirm what you believe to be true.
- Ignore or dismiss evidence that contradicts your beliefs.
- Refuse to consider alternative conclusions and perspectives based on the complete data.
- Become confident that you are right and make poor decisions even if you are not.
- Misinterpret facts in a predetermined way to arrive at the conclusions you like.
- Remain far less analytical and critical of data and facts, and go with opinions held by most of your colleagues, kin and society, even if they are incorrect.
- Selectively recall memories to reinforce your judgment, opinions and ideas.
- Stereotype individuals and groups, and stand by it, dismissing contradicting facts and evidence.
People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.
What are the 4 types of confirmation bias?
One might exhibit a few types of confirmation bias, depending on how one manifests it. Confirmation biases are displayed in the form of:
Search for information
People susceptible to this confirmation bias may have a belief, theory, or hypothesis, and they will search for evidence to support that. They will tend to ask questions, which will yield the results that they desire. This type of confirmation bias can make people make poor decisions, as they will not consider the complete information but only the information that supports their beliefs.
For instance, if the HR team comes up with two solutions for a problem, say to improve employee engagement, and conducts a pilot study to test the proposed methods, the manager in charge of the team would selectively look for data that would prove that the technique, which is close to their heart, yielded positive outcomes if he has confirmation bias. But when you test two approaches, both could deliver good results, one better than the other. In that case, they will discard the data related to the other method, even if it had produced better results, and select the one they believe to be effective, citing that it has proven its impact based on the selective data.
In this type of confirmation bias, people hold beliefs and preconceived notions, and interpret the evidence that confirms those beliefs and concepts favorably while dismissing or less favorably interpreting evidence that goes against those beliefs and concepts. Due to this phenomenon, people keep their faulty beliefs as they interpret the evidence to suit their narrative, even when presented with thorough research findings. Further, they take their confirming evidence without questions while putting the evidence against their beliefs under rigorous scrutiny.
For instance, suppose the head of a product team suffers from this type of confirmation bias and he firmly believes that the market has needs that a specific feature in the upcoming product will fulfill. But if the latest market study suggests that the feature may have only a small insignificant impact, the target audience needs some other feature to meet their needs. In that case, the product head will keep their opinion. This is because they would interpret their favorite feature’s small, insignificant demand as significant and dismiss the study’s recommendations to focus on a different priority.
People with this type of confirmation bias usually remember and recall selective information. They typically remember evidence that confirms their preconceived notions and beliefs but forget proof that does not endorse them. As a result, they reinforce their biases and indulge in stereotyping. Once they label/stereotype a person or a group, they selectively remember and recall the memories that will strengthen those stereotypes while forgetting any disconfirming evidence.
For instance, when a manager with this type of confirmation bias reviews a team member they believe to be error prone and less productive, they will recall the mistakes the person made throughout their tenure while forgetting the improvements and achievements they may have made in the review period. This will result in the manager giving a negative review of the employee and denying rightful promotions, incentives and hikes and can have far reaching implications within the organization.
This type of confirmation bias makes people go with the flow and believe that the views and beliefs held by the majority are always true, even if it is not the case. This can lead to employees needing help recognizing the problems and sharing false beliefs that most employees believe in. As a result, if they come across a problem that can hurt the organization, say a design flaw in a product, they will not critically evaluate it and alert the employees who can fix it.
For instance, if the company leadership introduces the policy of recruiting more women and achieving the status of being an equal opportunity employer, but the key recruiters conform to the sexist notion that women are not as productive as men and do not deserve equal pay, then it can effectively stop the organization from implementing the policy properly and becoming an equal opportunity employer. As a result, the organization may fail to bring in qualified candidates and lose well-performing women to competitors due to inequality and lack of recognition.
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Confirmation bias examples from the workplace
While deciding to terminate a failing project, business leaders suffering from confirmation bias may look into data, and cherry pick data that supports their belief that the project is succeeding and still has a lot of scope. They will discard the data that suggests that the bigger picture could look better. As a result, the project may be extended beyond the ideal time period, and it will continue to consume resources and make losses for the organization.
Confirmation bias can lead to making risky investments. For instance, when cryptocurrency was on the rise, it was believed to be the next big thing. While there was every possibility for virtual currencies that banks manage to fail, people with confirmation bias were influenced by the majoritarian view and believed that cryptocurrency might never fail and lose value. They invested a lot in cryptocurrencies and lost their investment when it crashed.
Managers disliking specific employees can be a result of stereotyping and confirmation bias. It will make them see only the mistakes of those employees and discard any facts that may suggest that they are productive and outperforming others. This can lead to the ideas and suggestions given by those employees being rejected. It can lead to poor performance reviews, lack of recognition, promotions and hikes. In the long run, it can affect employee morale and lead to employee turnover.
Metrics, KPIs and inferences from data analytics play a key role in making business-critical decisions in the organization. Though automated tools constantly keep track of key metrics and help measure key performance indicators without breaking a sweat, business leaders ultimately interpret and make sense of these numbers. Confirmation bias can make them misinterpret the data to support their beliefs and lead them towards wrong decisions that can even derail the business.
Why does confirmation bias occur?
Following are some of the reasons why confirmation bias occurs.
- Shortcuts for quick decision making
The human brain is so complex. While making decisions, it considers various factors, which can slow down the thinking process, cause dilemmas and prevent you from taking quick decisions. So, the human mind develops thinking shortcuts, which are also called heuristics. These shortcuts bypass some of the complicated steps involved in logical decision making. In the case of confirmation bias, the human mind simplifies decision making by avoiding information that contradicts the beliefs. This enables you to process information fast without considering alternative points and make a quick decision, albeit based on incomplete information, selective data or memory, or false interpretations.
- Self preservation
As sentient beings, we like to be seen as knowledgeable. So we want to believe in ourselves, and we want others to think that our thoughts, ideas and beliefs are right; we want to be seen as infallible. So, the human mind may equate changing thoughts, ideas and beliefs based on contradicting evidence as admitting defeat and see that as a challenge to our intelligence. It affects self-esteem. So, we like to discard conflicting evidence and confidently double down on flawed beliefs and ideas to protect our self-esteem.
- To avoid internal conflicts
It creates a sense of uneasiness and discomfort when we hold conflicting beliefs or when our thoughts are inconsistent with our actions. This internal conflict is called cognitive dissonance. Since contradictions make us uncomfortable, we address them by resorting to confirmation bias. Avoiding information and denying evidence that contradicts our beliefs helps us avoid the internal conflicts caused by cognitive dissonance.
4 actions to overcome confirmation bias?
You can follow a few key ways to avoid confirmation bias.
- Develop awareness
Confirmation bias is deeply ingrained in the thought process. To address it, the first thing you need to do is to become aware of its existence. Make a note of the facts and data that you consider and those you reject or discard. Study them and ensure that you consciously do not blindly reject or discard any facts before deciding.
- Seek alternative viewpoints
When you suffer from confirmation bias, there is a danger of selectively listening, reading and receiving facts and perspectives that support your beliefs. When you keep reinforcing your ideas and constantly seek confirmation from people with similar points of view, you may get trapped in an echo chamber where nothing else reaches you. You can address this problem by voluntarily looking for alternative viewpoints and considering them objectively.
- Strive to be receptive to complete facts and data
With an open mind, you can have a broader and clearer perspective. You can address confirmation bias by being open to going through complete information, facts and data, instead of just cherry picking whatever confirms your beliefs.
- Be open to change
The final step towards addressing confirmation bias is changing your attitude towards accepting changes. Organizations rely on facts, data, metrics and KPI to monitor success and achievements. Success is guaranteed only if you make data-driven changes and adapt to them in a fast-moving world. When massive organizations backtrack and change their opinions, ideas and beliefs, individuals must understand that there is no shame in embracing change.
Frequently asked questions
- What is a confirmation bias example?
Managers stereotyping and disliking specific employees, seeing only their mistakes, discarding any facts that may suggest that they are actually productive and outperforming others, and giving poor ratings in the performance review, is an example of confirmation bias.
- What is confirmation bias and why is it important?
Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to look for information that supports their pre-existing beliefs. It is essential because it can make people make wrong decisions based on incomplete or selective information and have far-reaching consequences.
- What are the four types of confirmation bias?
- Biased search for information
- Biased Interpretation
- Biased Memory
- Group-serving bias
- What is confirmation bias in psychology?
Confirmation bias is people’s tendency to look for information that supports their pre-existing beliefs, cherry pick data and facts, and interpret and remember information in a way that confirms their assumptions.
Organizations must recognize and address this aspect of bias as it can have a far reaching impact on decision making. Keeping biases in check is the way to a successful organization. Learn how the OKRs framework can help you focus on executing your goals and help you to systematically address all your biases. Book a free demo with our team to learn more about how OKR software can help in focused decision making and optimize your organization’s performance!