Understanding Confirmation Bias and Groupthink

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.”

– Rollo May

We are all susceptible to bias. Generally, people display bias when they gather or recall information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information or interpret evidence in ways that support, rather than reject, one’s preconceptions or existing beliefs. It is one of the strongest and most influential forms of bias in psychology, largely because it operates outside of our awareness and becomes more pronounced for emotionally charged issues and deeply held beliefs.

Groupthink is a related concept first researched and discussed in the 1970’s by the social psychologist, Irving L. Janis. Groupthink refers to the tendency of individuals to refrain from expressing doubts and judgments or disagreeing with the consensus. Groupthink can be seen in anything ranging from poor decisions by a teenager in an effort to go along with the crowd to major corporations or governments ignoring ethical consequences of decisions. Much like confirmation bias, this phenomenon can operate largely outside of awareness and is often intensified by the degree of in-group out-group dynamics or when the identity of a group is perceived to be threatened by others. Stress and intense emotion can likewise lead to heighted conformity. Ultimately, groupthink can cause us to ignore critical information and trigger decisions that are less ideal, shortsighted, and possibly even harmful to others. 

In addition to confirmation bias and group think, the format and context of information is an important factor when consuming information. Research shows that people are more likely to accept false statements as true if they are easy to hear or read. Likewise, people are more likely to fall for misinformation when they fail to carefully deliberate over the material, whether or not it is aligned with their political views (Bago, B., et al., 2020). 

Tips for Managing Confirmation Bias & Group Think

Take time to consider where the ideas came from

Look for evidence in opposition to your views

Listen to understand how and why other people hold certain opinions and views

Pause to think before reacting and be aware of emotional reasoning

Work on being more comfortable with disagreements

Prove yourself wrong 

Maintain a broad range of sources when gathering information

Ask questions

Don’t discourage dissent or challenges to the prevailing or popular opinion

Since the 1970’s, psychologists have found that even after misinformation is corrected, false beliefs can still persist (Anderson, C. A., et al., 1980). Therefore, it is important to step back and understand why we hold certain views and notice if we are narrowly focusing on certain types or sources of information. Likewise, it is important to be aware of any pressure to confirm or jump to conclusions if we feel threatened.  

If we can work to be more flexible by considering alternatives and more aware of how underlying biases and group dynamics influence our views and behaviors, we can arrive at a place of greater confidence in our views and greater cooperation within our communities. Furthermore, if we practice working to understand the thought process of those with differing views, we can not only better understand the depth and breadth of the issues at hand, we can also cultivate greater compassion towards our fellow citizens.   

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Anderson, C. A., Lepper, M., Ross, L. (1980). Perseverance of social theories: The role of explanation in the persistence of discredited information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(6), 1037–1049.

Bago, B., Rand, D. G., & Pennycook, G. (2020). Fake news, fast and slow: Deliberation reduces belief in false (but not true) news headlines. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000729

Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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