A Seven-Year-Old's Confirmation Bias
All my posts this week have focused a lot on psychology, specifically relating to how humans interpret data when it comes to our beliefs and opinions. I’m keeping with that theme today as well. It's woven into our human tapestry and touches every aspect of our lives, not just whether we're Democrat or Republican.
Today’s topic is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is defined as the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories. In short, we tend to stop analyzing evidence once we’ve found enough to support our own theory. We want our belief to be true, therefore, we make it so by discounting contrary information.
Given the political climate in our country, it's likely that confirmation bias is at play for many. It’s likely a substantial component to why our politicians can’t seem to negotiate or come together to resolve some very important issues.
All of us can fall victim to confirmation bias and it can touch every facet of our experiences. Interestingly enough, it was my seven year old that pointed this out to me today. Mind you, she is neither aware of nor referenced this term, but the effects of it were represented in her story.
On the way home today from school, my daughter told me of an event that happened. After she concluded the story, she said that she felt “John’s” action taken toward her were meant to be mean. I gave her some space to explain why, then she was quiet for a bit. A few minutes later, she told me that “Donna” was smiling and, while she wasn’t sure what "Donna" said, knew it was said to be hurtful too. (As I understood the story, “Donna” was in collusion with “John.”)
Upon hearing her story, I immeditely related it to confirmation bias. (After all, my head’s been swimming in these topics the past few days.) While my daughter acknowledged that she didn’t know what “Donna” said, she felt most comfortable leaning in the direction that it was meant to be mean and hurtful.
I took this opportunity to ask her if there may have been any other reason “John” said what he said. She couldn’t think of anything, so I helped her out with some ideas. You could see the lightbulb go off. When she realized there was another possibility for why “John” did what he did and said what he said, it looked like a weight had been lifted. She offered that she hadn’t thought about that possibility and hasn’t discussed it since.
Not only was I conscious of my feelings during her story (I found myself becoming mama bear for a hot second), I was able to make a different choice. I calmed myself down and chose to consider the possibly of an alternative motive. Answers to additional questions painted a much prettier picture in my mind of the events that unfolded. While I assured my daughter that I couldn't say whether the intentions of "John" and "Donna" were good or bad, I could offer her my prettier picture that she could consider alongside the one painted in her mind. That seemed to be enough.
Was this really confirmation bias? Sounded like it to me. But, I am likely biased. ;)
Be open to what comes.