How To Avoid Confirmation Bias: 5 Tips

This is a tricky topic because confirmation bias comes naturally to our species.

Before we can figure out how to avoid it, we need to understand its origin.

Why do humans have such a hard time changing their minds?
Why do we so easily accept data the supports our current beliefs while struggling to hear anything that challenges them?

The answer to this is surprisingly simple, while the solution is as hard as it gets.

The reason confirmation bias is a natural quirk of the human mind is due to our evolutionary past. For the bulk of human existence as homo sapiens sapiens—anatomically modern humans—we lived as hunter-gatherers in small egalitarian tribes.

The most common practice observed by hunter-gatherers and the most likely way of life for our ancestors is "fiercely egalitarian." This means everyone in a tribe is as equal as possible, with the threat of violence or expulsion built into the tribe's way of life for any individual that threatened the group's survival. This is why our psychology has a built-in operating system it does.

Mother Nature figured out this was the optimal strategy for our species to survive and procreate in the harsh wild. By acting as a group, we had a better chance at hunting, sharing food, and raising offspring. It's what we now today call a "family unit."

The thing that Mother Nature figured out for humans was group survival. When we were able to work in groups to hunt, share resources, and raise offspring, we quickly moved to the top of the food chain. At that point, the rest of the animal kingdom didn't stand a chance.

This paved the way for our brains to grow bigger, which further reinforced the group survival adaptation.

And this is where confirmation bias comes in.

You see, one of the features of this group survival focus is an intense desire we all have to maintain the status quo and to think the same as the tribe. We have an innate desire to belong, to fit in, to be needed.

The independent thinker living in a hunter-gatherer tribe had NO incentive to think independently. Sure, you could offer counterpoints here and there, but if you went against the group too often, you could find yourself killed or exiled, which would have also been a death sentence.

This is why social behaviors like shame came into play as a means to keep people in check. This was to restrict the ugly side of our species, like greed, subterfuge, and betrayal. It's also why many countries executive those that commit treason—we really don't like being betrayed.

Living in the harsh wild with the myriad of dangers lurking, the better the tribe could work together and think alike, the better chance the group would survive.

This is why nature programmed us to think alike and to trust our fellow tribesmen readily. This makes sense considering your ability to trust your fellow group members could save your life in certain circumstances.

Confirmation bias is one of the many psychological traits ingrained into our psychology as a result of surviving for hundreds of thousands of years in the wild environment.

And then everything changed with framing. When our ancestors became farmers, the invention of personal property took hold. Since farming a plot of land was investing in a plot of land, it became important to protect what's yours. This led to weapons, warfare, then eventually commerce, specialization, money, and civilization.

The problem is, we've only been living in modern civilization for about 10,000 or so years, which is a tiny fraction of human existence. We are designed as hunter-gatherers, yet we were born into modern society. As a result, your biology that is designed to live as a hunter-gatherer is mismatched to the modern world.

This mismatch concept explains everything, from obesity to chronic disease, to the issues with marriage, to how minds work, to how it's almost impossible for our brain to comprehend large numbers, and so on.

And confirmation bias is just one of the many mismatches we run into today in our information-rich world.

Now that we understand the origin of confirmation bias, what is our best strategy for dealing with it?

Here are a few tips I have for overcooking confirmation bias.

Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list, so explore your own strategies for overcoming bias. Finally, accept the reality that you are never going to remove all bias. That's ok. Bias can keep you alive and safe. It's the biases that make you blind to your relationships, other people, business deals, investment decisions, and your inner world that you want to be as aware of as possible for obvious reasons. Here are some strategies for overcoming confirmation bias AND other bias.

Seek self-awareness

This is a big topic, so I can't go into specifics. Look for articles and videos online for strategies to increase your self-awareness. The more self-aware you become, the less likely you will fall into the confirmation bias trap.

Focus on First Principles

Anytime you are faced with new information, run that information through the first principles framework.

Ask yourself how this information applies to things you know for sure—like basic math, basic science, basic philosophy, basic morality, etc.

The key to a first principles way of thinking is going down to the absolute foundational truth and then reasoning up from there.

Most of the time, you can quickly understand something by focusing oil the basics and reasoning up from there.

Ask lots of questions

Question the information. Question the source. Question the origin. Question until you run out of questions. If you find that a lot of the questions you are asking go unanswered, that might be a sign that something is lacking.

Don't jump to conclusions

Your brain loves to jump to conclusions, which is probably the number one reason that confirmation bias rears its ugly head. We love to put things in simple boxes of good/bad, black/white, safe/unsafe. This served our ancestors for safety reasons, but today it gets us into trouble.

You are much better off shrugging your shoulders to something than deciding on it. Be willing to shrug your should. Be ready to go without a decision. Not everything Neds a decision. It's ok not to decide on some things. Many things don't warrant having an opinion—be ok with that. This will immediately remove the confirmation bias trap since you won't have to make a decision at all and risk the run of falling into bias.

Ask others what they think

If you can ask others what they think on a topic to get multiple viewpoints, you stand a reasonable chance of coming to an objective decision. Just make sure you get different viewpoints and not a bunch of people that all think the same thing. Then when you get this feedback, take it all with a grain fo salt.