Confirmation Bias

By: Megan Prats


Critical thinking is effective in that it avoids common pitfalls, such as seeing only one side of an issue, discounting new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning from passion rather than logic, failing to support statements with evidence, and so on.

Daniel Willingham, University of Virginia

The infinite realm of knowledge is a self-empowering yet extremely humbling place. As the student grows in her understanding of critical thinking, she realizes that with her mind she can touch any space in knowledge. However, at the same time the student will never be able to know it all as all knowledge is beyond the capabilities of the human mind. Because there is an element of the unknown with the known, the student’s conclusions can always be “wrong”. Since all human conclusions are prone to error, the student should not conclude and then analyze.

Confirmation bias is when the student analyzes the problem so that she arrives at the solution that she desires, not what it rightfully should be.  When confirmation bias takes over, the problem-solving process is reordered – 1) conclusion, 2) analysis, 3) same conclusion.  Because the student’s analysis is skewed, arriving to a good answer becomes a lot harder to attain.

As the champion of good problem-solving, when you see that the student is blinded by confirmation bias, it is time to take action. First, like in addressing any problem, awareness is key. You need to explain to the student what confirmation bias is, and the adverse consequences that it has on problem-solving so that the student’s “danger” flag can appear when she falls into the confirmation bias trap.

Next, confirmation bias is fueled by pride, thus to exterminate it, pride needs to be humbled.  The simplest way in which to do this is to present a counter-argument to the student’s conclusion produced by confirmation bias to show her why her conclusion is not a good one.


Then, it is important to establish a balance between the student’s propensity to accuracy and error in order to help her see when she can be confident that she is in fact thinking without confirmation bias and thus can be confident in her answer. The best confirmation comes when intellectual and inner honesty collide. Thus, if the student can honestly say that her answer escapes the confines of confirmation bias and intellectually support her answer, then she should feel honestly (not arrogantly) confident in her conclusion.

Confirmation bias, like all things in life, has pros and cons – hence why it exists. However, only in rare circumstances would confirmation bias be useful to the student. Thus, when confirmation bias appears in the lesson, it is time to eliminate it!

© Megan Prats 2015

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