are We objective when we seek information?

¿Somos objetivos cuando buscamos información?When we seek information, what we actually have in an objective way? Are we able to put aside our own beliefs on a topic, and to assess objectively the different arguments involved? To aim for an answer to these important questions, in this post we will talk about a psychological process common in our mental life: the confirmation bias.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to favour information that confirms our beliefs, discarding those that (potentially) could refute them. In addition, the confirmation bias leads us to interpret information ambiguous so that it appears to reinforce our beliefs rather than refute them.

Thus, the confirmation bias can perpetuate erroneous points of view about the world, because we are “blind” to the evidence that go against our belief system. A consequence of this fact is that our ability to make the right choices can be seriously limited, since they have accurate information and truthful about the world is a requirement to be able to act in the best way possible.

But why occurs the confirmation bias? Our system of beliefs form a whole relate to beliefs about the world, about others and about ourselves. Our various experiences and beliefs are strongly united to each other, and always under the influence of emotions. Our brain is a peculiar device of information processing, but its processing capacity is limited. So, to avoid being overwhelmed by the outside information, our brain works on the basis of those beliefs to integrate the information that surrounds us. This idea has received the support of both the experimental psychology as in biology, thanks to the discovery of patterns of behavior innate that predispose us to act in certain ways, thus minimizing the task of processing of external information.

And this way of consuming information is a very efficient. So much so that, when working at an unconscious level, it is very difficult to reverse its natural dynamics. In the words of the cognitive psychologist Walter Riso:

The system of processing of the information the human is economic, in the sense that it must self-regulate their capabilities to be able to adapt to a changing world, and multivariate. Many authors have documented the tendency of various structures of informational to automantenerse, such as, for example, stereotypes, religious beliefs, schemas, and autoesquemas, prejudices, political beliefs, and moral, among others. […] This is the explanation of why we are in some way insensitive to the experiences and bad statistical natural, and why they prefer to make decisions based more on the theories that we construct in the data. Desconfirmar is much more expensive than confirm the beliefs preset. (Rice, 2009; p. 130)

The relationship between the phenomenon of confirmation bias, and the search of information is very direct, and as I am pointing out, has important consequences on the decisions we make, or the capacity of desconfirmar beliefs are unjustified.

Now, can we nullify the effects of this bias when we look for information? In other words, what we might be able to search for information in a manner not partial, not affected by our previous beliefs on the subject?

Given that the confirmation bias is a phenomenon that is a result of the way it works in our brain, the answer seems not. And that is, that we can hardly escape our past experiences, our expectations, or the image that we have of ourselves and the world. This does not imply that we will not be able to do this. Just want to say that to combat the confirmation bias requires that we be aware of how it works. This is, we need a critical thinking that allows us to think about how we think, thereby bringing out a true metacognition.

This is the stance of the researchers in Information and Documentation Birger Hjørland and Jeppe Nicolaisen. In a joint article, we propose some practices to bring to the consciousness of the confirmation bias when we look for scientific information, thus minimizing its effects. These practices, with a hint of modified, can be extended to any type of search of information, as a step to comment below:

  • Let’s try to form an overall view on the topic, as well as the main arguments in game.
  • Not grant you credibility without reservation to all information. Whenever possible, comprobémosla.
  • We take into account the interests that may exist within a particular framework theoretical / ideological.
  • Let us consider the practical implications of the different points of view.
  • The information that we are considering what is dogmatic or encourages the dialogue and the examination of alternative points of view?
  • Let us not impress too much by the technicalities: on occasion, may serve to impress the public and to discredit other points of view.
  • We do not limit our search to a single discipline, or to a single genre or tradition.
  • Let’s assume by default that different theories and perspectives exist for each subject, but that perspective is the “fashion” may be the dominant, so that alternative perspectives can be more difficult to locate.
  • It is difficult to work alone, as well as verify each and every point of view, one same. We seek the collaboration of people in the trust.
  • Let us all take the time to examine a particular point of view: not all arguments can be assimilated with equal ease.

The authors added another practice that I can not resist to reproduce literally:

Demand of libraries and information systems that they provide services that help to identify the most important arguments from all major points of view.

To finish, some questions for you: are you aware of the effects of the confirmation bias in your information search?; if so, do you use any practice to minimize the effects of the confirmation bias?

Bibliography:

Riso, Walter. Cognitive therapy. Barcelona: Paidós, 2009.

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