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Disconfirmation Bias: Definition, Examples and Effects

Updated: Nov 17, 2023



Definition:


Disconfirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias whereby people tend to demand more evidence for, be more skeptical of, or put more effort into refuting information, beliefs, or viewpoints that contradict their own (compared to how they accept information that agrees with their existing beliefs).


When confronted with information that disagrees with their pre-existing beliefs or opinions, people influenced by disconfirmation bias will scrutinize this information more rigorously than information that aligns with their beliefs. They might look for flaws in the argument, question the credibility of the source, or seek counter-evidence. This means that disconfirmation bias is a form of motivated reasoning.



Examples:


Political Beliefs: A person with strong political opinions might scrutinize statements and policies from opposing parties much more critically than those from their preferred party. They might dismiss any negative information about their favored party as biased or untrue, while readily accepting similar information about the opposition.


Social Media and News Consumption: When browsing social media or reading news articles, individuals might question the validity, source, and content of news that contradicts their beliefs but accept without question news that aligns with their viewpoints. This selective scrutiny contributes to the formation of echo chambers where only agreeable information is acknowledged.


Workplace Decisions: In a professional setting, a manager might have a favorite employee and, as a result, may dismiss negative feedback about this employee as inaccurate or irrelevant. Conversely, they may readily accept negative feedback about a less favored employee without much scrutiny.



Effects:


The effects of this bias can be seen in lots of different domains. They include:


Reinforcement of Existing Beliefs: This bias often results in the strengthening of pre-existing beliefs or opinions, as it leads to dismissing or undervaluing evidence that could challenge or change these beliefs. This reinforcement can contribute to overconfidence in one's views and resistance to change.


Polarization and Echo Chambers: In social and political contexts, disconfirmation bias can contribute to the polarization of opinions. People are more likely to surround themselves with information and individuals that confirm their beliefs and to dismiss or avoid contradictory viewpoints. This leads to the formation of echo chambers, where group members reinforce each other's beliefs, potentially radicalizing their views.


Resistance to Learning and Growth: The bias can hinder personal growth and learning, as it involves a reluctance to engage with new or challenging information. People might miss out on opportunities to broaden their understanding, acquire new skills, or adapt to changing circumstances.


Selective Exposure and Confirmation Bias: Disconfirmation bias often leads people to engage in selective exposure, seeking out information that aligns with their beliefs and avoiding contradictory information. This behavior reinforces the related bias known as confirmation bias and further limits exposure to diverse perspectives.


Impact on Public Discourse: In societal debates and public discourse, disconfirmation bias can lead to an oversimplified and confrontational style of discussion. Instead of engaging in productive disagreements, people might focus on attacking or discrediting opposing views, reducing the quality and effectiveness of public discussions. This also holds true for interpersonal conflicts.


Misinterpretation of Evidence: This bias can lead to the misinterpretation or misrepresentation of evidence, data, or facts in various fields, including science, journalism, and law. This misinterpretation can have significant consequences, influencing public opinion, policy decisions, and legal outcomes.



Do you want to expand your knowledge on this topic? Read our full, in-depth article on cognitive biases.


Do you have extra 15 minutes today? Take our fun and interactive quiz to learn which of 16 reasoning styles you use, your overall level of rationality, and what you can do now to improve your rationality skills.



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