Defining Confirmation Bias | Facing History & Ourselves

Defining Confirmation Bias

Reporters and media professionals define the term “confirmation bias,” and discuss its effect on how people approach and evaluate news and other information.
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English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • History
  • Social Studies
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Racism

Defining Confirmation Bias



Confirmation bias is the idea that we tend to accept information unquestioningly when it reinforces some predisposition we have or some existing belief or attitude. The flip side of that is disconfirmation bias. People tend to be unduly skeptical of information that contradicts some previous position they have or point of view. So we tend to be too accepting of information we want to hear and too critical of information we don't want to hear.

The problem is when it comes to matters of fact, where there is a right answer, there is evidence that is overwhelming on one side or the other, and yet our predispositions are getting in the way of us accepting that information. Confirmation bias is important because we often are trying to evaluate information, and we would like to evaluate in a way that's accurate. But we also sometimes care about what the outcome is. We have a preference for who is right. And when that preference affects what we believe, we may come to have inaccurate views. We may tend to have a narrow-minded view or a biased view because our predispositions are influencing our judgments about the world.

I think readers are-- they're living in a world now where they can go find whatever will confirm their bias. If the Washington Post doesn't report Ferguson the way they want it reported, they can go to a place that feeds their ideology, that feeds their view of the world. And those sites exist. That's why they're in business.

We're in a moment where people are choosing their own media. And in politics, national politics, we have a separation. You see more confirmation bias in source selection when it comes to national politics than anywhere else. But actually, moments of crisis, like Ferguson and Baltimore and, I shudder to say, the next incident, are moments when we open up our picture just a little bit more, and the meaning can change.



Defining Confirmation Bias

Facing History & Ourselves & the News Literacy Project

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