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Motivate Yourself 113: Confirmation Bias

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Terry Pratchet once wrote:

"Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that.
They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things…well, new things aren’t what they expect.
They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds…Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true."

This is the basis of what's called confirmation bias.
A psychological habit that filters reality and creates a new one that is based upon our already existing beliefs.
For example. if you spend your whole life thinking that you're stupid then the only thing you notice are your mistakes, if you believe that you're unattractive then that's all you'll see when you look in the mirror.
It's important to know that we do this because it's not just a habit that anxious people have. It's totally across the board.
It is a peculiar human trait to look for evidence of our beliefs, even if our beliefs are incorrect. I think to be 'the best we can be' we need to tackle this.
We aren't born with any beliefs at all, we have to learn them and if what we learnt was in fact wrong then we need to unlearn that belief and learn a new one. Which means we have to prevent confirmation bias as much as possible by deliberately looking for evidence that contradicts our beliefs.
I'm regularly reminded of an experiment in the late 70's in which participants were given a story to read, all about a week in the life of an imaginary woman named Jane.
Throughout her week, Jane did many different things but behaved in ways that showed her to be both an introverted, shy character and an extroverted confident character.
A few days later the participants came back in and were asked one of 2 questions.
Either, "Would Jane make a good librarian?" or "Would Jane make a good estate agent?"
The participants that were asked the librarian question would go through Jane's week in their mind and find examples of her being introverted and say "Yes".
Similarly the estate agent group went through Jane's week in their mind and looked for evidence of the opposite and of course they found it and said "Yes, she's an extrovert and would make a good estate agent".
Afterwards the participants were asked if they thought Jane would be any good at the opposite job, and the participants said "No".
They'd already formed an opinion about Jane and evidence to the contrary had been deleted from their memories.
That's confirmation bias and understanding that we do this is vital. It helps us to learn not just about ourselves but also about our friends and family.
If all you do is complain that your partner is uncaring and selfish, then you'll delete the times when they tell you that they love you or give you an unexpected hug, and that's not just unfair to them. It's also unfair to you.
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