What Is the Confirmation Bias?

Examples of confirmation bias

Verywell / Daniel Fishel 

What Is the Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation Bias

A confirmation bias is cognitive bias that favors information that confirms your previously existing beliefs or biases.

For example, imagine that a person believes left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. Whenever this person encounters a person that is both left-handed and creative, they place greater importance on this "evidence" that supports what they already believe. This individual might even seek proof that further backs up this belief while discounting examples that don't support the idea.

Confirmation biases impact how we gather information but also influence how we interpret and recall information. For example, people who support or oppose a particular issue will not only seek information to support it, but they will also interpret news stories in a way that upholds their existing ideas. They will also remember details in a way that reinforces these attitudes.

History of Confirmation Bias

The idea behind the confirmation bias has been observed by philosophers and writers since ancient times. In the 1960s, cognitive psychologist Peter Wason conducted several experiments known as Wason's rule discovery task. He demonstrated that people tend to seek information that confirms their existing beliefs.

Signs of Confirmation Bias

When it comes to confirmation bias, there are often signs that a person is inadvertently or consciously falling victim to it. Unfortunately, it can also be very subtle and difficult to spot. Some of these signs that might help you identify when you or someone else is experiencing this bias include:

  • Only seeking out information that confirms your beliefs and ignoring or discredit information that doesn't support them.
  • Looking for evidence that confirms what you already think is true, rather than considering all of the evidence available.
  • Relying on stereotypes or personal biases when assessing information.
  • Selectively remembering information that supports your views while forgetting or discounting information that doesn't.
  • Having a strong emotional reaction to information (positive or negative) that confirms your beliefs, while remaining relatively unaffected by information that doesn't.

Types of Confirmation Bias

There are a few different types of confirmation bias that can occur. Some of the most common include the following:

  • Biased attention: This is when we selectively focus on information that confirms our views while ignoring or discounting data that doesn't.
  • Biased interpretation: This is when we consciously interpret information in a way that confirms our beliefs.
  • Biased memory: This is when we selectively remember information that supports our views while forgetting or discounting information that doesn't.

Examples of the Confirmation Bias

It can be helpful to consider a few examples of how confirmation bias works in everyday life to get a better idea of the effects and impact it may have.

Interpretations of Current Issues

One of the most common examples of confirmation bias is how we seek out or interpret news stories. We are more likely to believe a story if it confirms our pre-existing views, even if the evidence presented is shaky or inconclusive. For example, if we support a particular political candidate, we are more likely to believe news stories that paint them in a positive light while discounting or ignoring those that are critical.

Consider the debate over gun control:

  • Let's say Sally is in support of gun control. She seeks out news stories and opinion pieces that reaffirm the need for limitations on gun ownership. When she hears stories about shootings in the media, she interprets them in a way that supports her existing beliefs.
  • Henry, on the other hand, is adamantly opposed to gun control. He seeks out news sources that are aligned with his position. When he comes across news stories about shootings, he interprets them in a way that supports his current point of view.

These two people have very different opinions on the same subject, and their interpretations are based on their beliefs. Even if they read the same story, their bias shapes how they perceive the details, further confirming their beliefs.

Personal Relationships

Another example of confirmation bias can be seen in the way we choose friends and partners. We are more likely to be attracted to and befriend people who share our same beliefs and values, and less likely to associate with those who don't. This can lead to an echo chamber effect, where we only ever hear information that confirms our views and never have our opinions challenged.

Decision-Making

The confirmation bias can often lead to bad decision-making. For example, if we are convinced that a particular investment is good, we may ignore warning signs that it might not be. Or, if we are set on getting a job with a particular company, we may not consider other opportunities that may be better suited for us.

Impact of the Conformation Bias

The confirmation bias happens due to the natural way the brain works, so eliminating it is impossible. While it is often discussed as a negative tendency that impairs logic and decisions, it isn't always bad. The confirmation bias can significantly impact our lives, both positively and negatively. On the positive side, it can help us stay confident in our beliefs and values and give us a sense of certainty and security. 

Unfortunately, this type of bias can prevent us from looking at situations objectively. It can also influence our decisions and lead to poor or faulty choices.

During an election season, for example, people tend to seek positive information that paints their favored candidates in a good light. They will also look for information that casts the opposing candidate in a negative light.

By not seeking objective facts, interpreting information in a way that only supports their existing beliefs, and remembering details that uphold these beliefs, they often miss important information. These details and facts might have influenced their decision on which candidate to support.

How to Overcome the Confirmation Bias

There are a few different ways that we can try to overcome confirmation bias:

  • Be aware of the signs that you may be falling victim to it. This includes being aware of your personal biases and how they might be influencing your decision-making.
  • Consider all the evidence available, rather than just the evidence confirming your views.
  • Seek out different perspectives, especially from those who hold opposing views.
  • Be willing to change your mind in light of new evidence, even if it means updating or even changing your current beliefs.

A Word From Verywell

Unfortunately, we all have confirmation bias. Even if you believe you are very open-minded and only observe the facts before coming to conclusions, some bias will likely shape your opinion. It's very difficult to combat this natural tendency.

That said, if we know about confirmation bias and accept the fact that it does exist, we can make an effort to recognize it by working to be curious about opposing views and listening to what others have to say and why. This can help us better see issues and beliefs from another perspective, though we still need to be conscious of wading past our confirmation bias.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Confirmation bias. APA Dictionary of Psychology.

  2. Wason PC. On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 1960;12(3):129-140. doi:10.1080/17470216008416717

  3. Satya-Murti S, Lockhart J. Recognizing and reducing cognitive bias in clinical and forensic neurology. Neurol Clin Pract. 2015 Oct;5(5):389-396. doi:10.1212/CPJ.0000000000000181

  4. Allahverdyan AE, Galstyan A. Opinion dynamics with confirmation bias. PLoS One. 2014;9(7):e99557. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099557

  5. Frost P, Casey B, Griffin K, Raymundo L, Farrell C, Carrigan R. The influence of confirmation bias on memory and source monitoring. J Gen Psychol. 2015;142(4):238-52. doi:10.1080/00221309.2015.1084987

  6. Suzuki M, Yamamoto Y. Characterizing the influence of confirmation bias on web search behavior. Front Psychol. 2021;12:771948. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.771948

Additional Reading
  • Poletiek FH. Hypothesis-Testing Behavior. Psychology Press, 2013.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.