The Challenge of Confirmation Bias | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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The Challenge of Confirmation Bias

Students define confirmation bias and examine why people sometimes maintain their beliefs in the face of information that contradicts their understanding.


One 50-min class period


English — UK


Language geofocus text


About This Lesson

Today’s youth are inundated with information from social media, the Internet, television, their peers, and their families. As consumers and sharers of news and information amidst this onslaught of fact and fiction, students must develop strategies to recognise bias and seek to limit the power and inevitability of their own biases. This lesson builds off of Chimamanda Adichie’s idea that the “single stories” we may rely on for information can provide us with a limited or inaccurate understanding of other people’s identities, values, and cultures, and, in turn, impact our decision-making processes and choices. The conversations about identity and “single stories” from previous lessons provide a good segue into a discussion of bias. In this lesson, students will examine the human tendency to believe what we already hold to be true even when confronted with new information and perspectives that challenge our beliefs.

This lesson begins with an activity that helps students experience confirmation bias firsthand. Then, students gain context for their experience by hearing from experts about how confirmation bias operates in all of us. Finally, they will learn about the challenges of separating fact from fiction by listening to a National Public Radio story from the United States about efforts to correct rumours and fake news; students will use information to discuss the role confirmation bias plays in how they interpret the information that they read, see, and hear today.

What is identity? What makes each of us who we are?

  • How do we respond to information or evidence that contradicts our beliefs or assumptions?
  • What is confirmation bias and how does it make it difficult to overcome the "single stories" we believe about other people, and those others believe about us?

Students will define confirmation bias and examine why people sometimes maintain their beliefs in the face of information that contradicts or challenges their understanding or assumptions.

  • 4 activities
  • 2 videos
  • 1 handout

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

This lesson focuses on helping students understand confirmation bias, a term that was coined by English psychologist Peter Wason. He devised the Wason Rule Discovery Test to demonstrate that most people do not effectively test their hypotheses or beliefs. Instead of trying to falsify a hypothesis to test it, people tend to try to confirm it. Depending on your students’ prior knowledge, you may need to provide them with the following definitions before or during the lesson:

  • Bias is prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
  • Predisposition is the tendency to hold a particular attitude or act in a particular way.
  • Confirmation bias, or the selective collection of evidence, is our subconscious tendency to seek and interpret information and other evidence in ways that affirm our existing beliefs, ideas, expectations, and/or hypotheses. Therefore, confirmation bias is both affected by and feeds our implicit biases. It can be most entrenched around beliefs and ideas that we are strongly attached to or that provoke a strong emotional response.

If you would like to learn more about how to address bias with your students, read Nelson Graves’ Facing Today blog entry How to Use Online Sources to Challenge Bias and Expand Perspectives. In it, he provides an interesting example of the danger of assumptions, as well as a classroom exercise for recognising bias in the news.

This is the final lesson in the “Individual and Society” section of this scheme of work. See the Unit Assessment for a project you can use to reinforce students learning on this theme after completing this lesson.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lessons plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic media and prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans


The following video illustrates the Wason Rule Discovery Test to introduce the idea of confirmation bias.

  • Start the class by playing the video Can You Solve This? (04:43), stopping the video at 01:10. Ask students to work with a partner to see if they can guess the rule. Then have each pair share their idea and record the possible rules on the board. Play the video to the end and ask students to discuss the following questions in pairs and then as a class:
    • Why do people have trouble guessing the rule?
    • What do you think prevents the people in the video from taking a different approach to the problem even after they know what they think is the rule must be incorrect?
  • First, provide students with the definitions of bias and predisposition. Alternatively, have students create and share their own working definitions to tap into their prior knowledge before revealing the dictionary definitions and asking students to record them in their notes.
  • Next, distribute the handout Defining Confirmation Bias Video Transcript and show the video Defining Confirmation Bias (02:34) twice. Instruct students to underline words and phrases that help them understand why it is so difficult for people to correct misinformation. During the first viewing, you might pause after each speaker and pose some comprehension questions to check for understanding. Then show the video a second time and ask students to complete a S-I-T response on their handouts or in their journals. They can share their responses with a partner or in a class discussion.
  • Finally, in small groups or as a class, ask students to discuss the following questions:
    • What is confirmation bias and how does it work?
    • What strategies did you learn from the Can You Solve This? video and discussion that might help offset our tendencies toward confirmation bias?
    • How can confirmation bias influence the way people select and respond to news and information?
    • How does confirmation bias affect our ability to judge the accuracy of information, whether it be from a news story, something else that we see on the Internet, or something that we hear?

Confirmation bias is often deeply entrenched in our emotional response to ideas, issues, and beliefs, making it particularly challenging to counteract. Plenty of Internet and social media sources exploit our emotional response (so-called “click bait”). Unfortunately, as we will see in this activity, this kind of viral misinformation can be particularly difficult to correct.

  • The National Public Radio (NPR) report Digital Culture Critic Abandons "Fake on the Internet" Column (03:25) explores the decision by the Washington Post, a major United States newspaper, to discontinue a column dedicated to correcting viral misinformation online. Pass out the transcript of the report to students and then play the audio. Both transcript and audio are available on NPR’s website. As students listen to the story, have them underline words, phrases, or ideas in the transcript that help to explain why it is so difficult to correct misinformation. You might also instruct them to write an exclamation point in the margin in places where they are surprised and a question mark where they feel confused. If you have time, play the report twice.
  • After they have listened to the report, ask small groups of students to discuss the following questions:
    • What places did you underline and mark with an exclamation point and question mark? Why did those places in the report stand out to you?
    • According to Caitlin Dewey, what are some of the reasons why people create and share what turns out to be rumour or misinformation?
    • Why do you think that people are more likely to believe misinformation or a conspiracy theory when it has been debunked or proven to be incorrect or untrue?
    • Ari Shapiro asks: “If journalists like you just give up on trying to demonstrate that these stories are false, haven't we really lost something valuable as a society?” What do you think society will lose if journalists give up trying to demonstrate that fake news stories are false? What responsibility do websites like Twitter and Facebook have to identify and block fake news stories?
    • What challenge does confirmation bias present in our efforts to see past the stereotypes and “single stories” we believe about each other?

On an exit card that students submit at the end of the lesson, ask students to respond to the following questions:

  • What is one way that confirmation bias can make it difficult for you to overcome a "single story" that you have about another individual, group of people, or place?
  • What is one change that could you make in your own life after learning about confirmation bias that might help you overcome this “single story”?

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

This is the handout that students use throughout The Challenge of Confirmation Bias lesson plan.

Additional Resources

Resources from Other Organizations

The resources below provide additional guidance for addressing difficult topics in the classroom.

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