We all have pre-existing opinions about a variety of things. Unfortunately, when trying to make a new opinion about something, your brain can make the mistake of only looking at information that supports its pre-existing opinion and not looking at information that does not support the potentially new opinion. This could lead you to never challenging your pre-existing opinions, as you never see information that challenges them. Psychologists have named this type of thinking as “confirmation bias”.
Here is a short example of how confirmation bias can be harmful:
Sarah believes that cigarette smoking is not harmful to one’s health. A friend tells her that she is wrong, so Sarah decides to check things by doing a search on the internet about the health risks of smoking. The first four web search results have topics that suggest that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. The fifth search result however, seems to suggest that cigarette smoking is harmless and that the dangers of smoking are a conspiracy theory. Due to her brain making the confirmation bias type of stupid thinking, Sarah does not check the first four results, as they do not “agree” with what she already believes to be true. Instead, she only clicks the fifth result, as this agrees with what she already thinks is correct. This leads her to wrongly think that cigarette smoking is healthy.
As the above example shows, confirmation bias can make you see the world in a very distorted way, and falsely give you an impression that your opinion is the only correct one.
What makes confirmation bias very dangerous in modern times is that social media companies often try to show you only information that they think you like to see and hide information that they think you are not interested in. This makes it more likely that your brain will make the confirmation bias type of stupid thinking, as it is presented only with information that agrees with its pre-existing opinions. This can even affect democracy as political parties pay social media companies to show their advertisements only to people who agree with that party’s views. The social media users will therefore end up seeing only advertisements from the party they support and not see advertisements from other parties with alternate views. This makes it easier for one’s brain to make the mistake of blindly trusting the political party one supports.
To minimise the chances of your brain making the confirmation bias type of stupid thinking, try and overcome the resistance your brain will have to looking at information that does not already agree with your pre-existing opinions. Try, once in a while, to actively look at or listen to media that are known to have opinions that differ from your own opinions. This will broaden your information base and help you to get a true view of the world around you.