Confirmation bias

In one of our past musings, we discussed how first our brain has an immediate emotional response to things. Then, our analytical reasoning kicks in to convince ourselves, and others, that our original emotional response is correct.

Seeing as we are all marketers and in the business of persuading and selling, this recent finding is compelling. And it gets more interesting. We intentionally seek out information to fortify our emotional point of view; use other people’s stories, preferably from people with status, and statistics too, to protect our position from close scrutiny. This makes our ability to persuade that much more convincing.

Let’s break it down, shall we?
Bob loves FOX news. Julie loves NPR. Bob’s best friends like FOX news, too. They listen to Rush Limbaugh, read the Wall Street Journal and for pleasure read Bill O’Reilly’s latest series of books: The Killing of Lincoln, Kennedy and Jesus.

Julie’s friends love PBS television. Julie secretly has a crush on Tom Ashbrook. She supports a woman’s right to choose and selects The China Study and Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages for bedtime reading.

What’s happening here? Well, Bob and Julie are consuming only content that supports their way of thinking. And no surprise to all of us marketers, they are actively gathering stories, fact and figures to support their thinking. Bob and Julie, and the rest of us, are partaking in confirmation bias whether we consciously realize it or not. We are not entertaining different points of view and challenging ourselves – we’re just cementing the ones we have. Listening to others who think, act and behave as we do is intoxicating. It makes us more convinced that we are right and that those who don’t think like us are wrong.

NK&A has thought a lot about confirmation bias and we have an antidote. Analysis makes it clear that our way of seeing the world is conditioned by the environment we grow up in, the friends we keep and the content we consume. The only way to challenge ourselves today is to mindfully consume information which differs from our own point of view.

We have a prescription for you. Each day deliberately consume 20 minutes of content that is not aligned with your beliefs. So if you’re Bob, try watching Jim Lehrer’s news on PBS. If you’re Judy, set your radio to Rush Limbaugh and his Excellence In Broadcasting (EIB). If you do so, this is what is going to happen:

  • You start to realize that different people use the same stories but for some reason the statistics aren’t the same.
  • It becomes clear that there is bias on both sides.
  • You realize that things are taken out of context and tailored to support the point each chooses to make.
  • The sources you always saw as right and just and fair, are not always right, just and fair.

What’s happening is your confirmation bias is being challenged and you are becoming more open-minded. Will you change? Will your emotionally driven view of the world cease to exist? Of course not. Your emotions will still guide your thinking because that is how your brain works. But, you will begin to acknowledge that confirmation bias exists and that is a good thing.