Sunday, 27 December 2015

Confirmation bias: The ultimate deception

If you log into Facebook, you'd inevitably come across a piece of news or some article, which would be mentioning some development in regards to a political party, or a Bollywood superstar. Now while the article was intended to provide you with pure information, it might end up with a deliberate attempt to stimulate your sense to express. So, "share your views on this" may actually end up becoming a heated debate between BJP and AAP supporters, or Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani partisans. But what's really worth pondering upon here, is that it was not even an ideal platform for debate. However, there was something inside the participants, some kind of pruritis, which forced them to let their inner beliefs or opinions come out and find their way in the form of a comment, or a comment on a comment. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the magical prowess of confirmation bias. 

We human beings have some values and beliefs, and over time they become consolidated. And once they are, every other piece of information, is evaluated with this belief as a frame of reference. So say, you maybe an AAP or a BJP supporter, and suddenly news surfaces of alleged corruption from a BJP leader. Irrespective of how accurate and credible the evidence buttressing the news maybe, a BJP supporter will always view the evidence as being false and deceptive, and an AAP supporter will consider it sacrosanct. So while in reality, the evidence may not even have held any relevance if a neutral mind investigated, the BJP supporters wouldn't care about finding any refuting evidence, and AAP supporters wouldn't care about finding any alternate evidence. So all in all, some real evidence present out there maybe conveniently ignored. 

Confirmation bias works at three levels - Information bias, interpretation bias, and memory bias. Information bias dictates that we only accept and process information that is consistent with our beliefs. So if a piece of news suggests that Dilwale is diabolically bereft of logic and is absolutely nonsensical, an SRK fan would simply shun out such information, and would still hold that Dilwale is a masterpiece even if he may not have watched it yet. Interpretation bias suggests that even with the same information, different people would act differently. So the headline "Dilwale grosses 100Cr, Bajirao Mastani only 70" would be heralded as Dilwale's massive achievement, while a Bajirao Mastani fan would simply deride Dilwale stating that it should've grossed 200Cr with the glam and glitter it had. Finally, memory bias seals the nail in the coffin by making us recollect only certain instances from the past, while ignoring other facts and truths that may already have been established. So a Dilwale fan would cherish the fact that the SRK Kajol chemistry always sizzled, but would ignore the fact that it's not a Yashraj movie this time around. 

Confirmation bias could be a tremendous weapon of gambit and confusion if used correctly. Political parties shrew on propaganda just to polarize opinions of their supporters, and if it goes their favor, their support base grows stronger. So say AAP was to malign BJP's image just before an election in a state where AAP is new and they may simply allege that some ruling member of BJP is corrupt. Now while in the longer run, AAP may note they'd fail to prove the allegation, some of their supporters who just began supporting AAP, would use their confirmation bias to fully support AAP afterwards, as they simply affirm their beliefs of AAP being a corruption crusader, even though whole of the agenda might be a fugazi. So with the belief of its fledgling supporters strengthened, AAP can now leverage on the word of mouth conversion of these supporters, and using selective dis-information and more such propaganda, root out BJP from a state they held suzerainty very long over.  

The ruling gentry of a country like North Korea has to simply thrive on confirmation bias. While the whole world outside notes the tribulation of the people, many people would still be motivated to serve the emperor because one, only selective information is made available to people, and two people have always believed this is the only way of life. So people deliberately choose to reject ideals of external world, and choose to live within the closed system they believe to be the only solution. 

Confirmation bias is the both, a harbinger of hope and the biggest deterrent to change. For example, all religions enshrine hope in the most supreme power and tell you it'll take care of you. When people go sick or struggle, their confirmation bias forces them to not let go of their hope in their almighty, and this hope may do wonders at the end. On the other hand, confirmation bias maybe extremely regressive. A new scientific idea that completely negates an outdated idea, maybe outright rejected and not be allowed to bloom because we so strongly believe in the existing ideas so as to not give the new idea as much as a thought. But irrespective of what results come out of confirmation bias, it's an inveterate human trait, and maybe a flaw our evolution was supposed to extirpate. But instead of making it become vestigial, we're furthering it's cause every time we investigate selectively and lurch on an argument with predetermined outcomes. The day we get rid of it, is the day when we'd truly feel enlightened!

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