Confirmation Bias - The tendency to pay more attention to things which reinforce your beliefs than to things which contradict them.
When confronted with new information, people often tend to be subjective and look for what they already believe or want to believe. This means they will focus more on information which reinforces pre-existing beliefs, and may suppress or disregard anything which challenges those beliefs.
When we describe people as “seeing the glass half full” or “seeing the glass half empty”, we are describing a confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias affects everybody, including people with Personality Disorders and the people close to them.
Relationships between Personality-Disordered individuals (PD’s) and Nons are often strongly emotionally charged. What each person believes about the other, and how they interpret each other’s behavior, can be influenced by a Confirmation bias. Understanding how this “blind spot” tendency affects human behavior can help explain how some dysfunctional relationships stay that way.
The human brain is incredibly adept at pattern recognition. This gives us the ability to quickly reduce a lot of complex, contradictory information into simple “black and white” decisions and ideas. Our value systems give us a framework that helps us to quickly recognize patterns, process data, and make judgments which enable us to make lightning-fast responses to events around us. However, this same ability to make split-second decisions can sometimes lead to mistakes.
Through selective perception a person may try and shelter themselves from uncomfortable facts, like the family that remains steadfastly in denial about child abuse. By looking only at the events they choose to, or treating any disclosure as mere “trouble-making”, a person can validate inaction and justify their own preferred belief that “there is nothing wrong.”
Examples of Confirmation Bias:
- A parent who idolizes one favorite child or selectively blames all the family problems on a scapegoat child.
- A combatant spouse who remembers all their partner's flaws in detail and ignores their virtues.
- A member of a religious cult who remembers examples of answered prayer and fulfilled prophecy and forgets counter-examples.
- A boss or co-worker who blacklists a colleague because of some minor infraction or character flaw.
- A hypochondriac who interprets minor ailments as evidence of major health problems.
What it feels like:
If you are in a relationship with a person who is influenced by a confirmation bias, you may feel frustrated at their ability to completely disregard the evidence in front of them. They may appear stubborn, unyielding, or unwilling to compromise. They may seem to ignore 99% of the evidence that says they are wrong and cling to the 1% of the evidence that supports their position. You may feel frustrated and think that they are doing this on purpose.
If you as a non-personality-disordered individual are being controlled by a confirmation bias, chances are there is a strong emotional component to the decisions or circumstances involved. You may feel there is a lot at stake, and prefer to see only those things which support your preferred outcome. You may feel a “tug of war” tension between your heart and your head. Usually, the higher the stakes, the stronger your emotional bias will be.
What NOT to do:
If someone else has a confirmation bias:
- Don't assume they know they are in the wrong. It's possible they believe they are in the right because it feels right, even if it is not logically right.
- Don't get into an argument or Circular Conversation. If they are making decisions based on their feelings, they are unlikely to change their mind until after their feelings change.
- Don't blame yourself or look for a reason why people believe illogical things.
- Don't Thought Police or try to force anyone to think the way you do. It’s OK to allow somebody else to continue to believe something inaccurate, as long as nobody is being abused as a result.
What TO do:
- Try to detach yourself and put yourself in a position where it doesn't matter what the other person chooses to think or believe.
- Remove yourself from any situation where you are being emotionally abused or physically abused.
- Surround yourself with supportive people who will believe your side of the story and will validate your feelings. Talk to trusted friends, family and professionals who can help you work it out.