We have a built-in predisposition to interpret events based on what we already believe to be true. The confirmation bias effect “is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.” We carry these with us everywhere, at all times, and, quite frankly, we have to work hard to overcome them. Really hard.
But what if we don’t have a firmly held belief? Well, we’re more easily influenced than we’d like to believe. It’s not just firmly held beliefs that lead to the conclusions brought on by confirmation bias.
I watched the video below and just had to smile as it moved me to reflect on my own behaviors. The video’s description reads, “A dramatic and shocking demonstration of how your brain gets fooled to see something that is not there because of your biases, prejudices and expectations.” It’s about 6 minutes long. Watch.
The video caught my attention on Fred Wilson‘s blog. Is it dramatic and shocking? Perhaps. But certainly it’s an illustration of how easily we can be manipulated – all of us. I’ve witnessed similar things, though not with Led Zeppelin music. I’m usually in the audience at a conference, or reading the tech press.
I had to laugh.
I laughed as I looked at how some of my behaviors have likely been shaped in a process similar to the one used in that video. I found myself reflecting on strings of actions that were almost certainly predisposed by people with perceived authority, explaining to me how I should be judging the success of yet to be acquired actions. And I also found myself remembering the moments when I realized that, metaphorically speaking, Robert Plant wasn’t singing, “There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer.” It wasn’t true, I was just predisposed to believe it was.
There’s no way for me to listen to that section of Stairway To Heaven backwards without hearing “My sweet Satan” now. I’m powerless to remove that bias. My biases might initially lead me down the wrong path, but I’m not powerless. I can choose to take a different path.
In our everyday experience, we’re not often given the chance to hear the songs of our lives played backwards before our bias is exposed. That would be nice. And even though I’ve become quicker and quicker at recognizing when confirmation bias rears it’s ugly head, and to quickly change course, I’m often still not quick enough. Perhaps you can relate.