Confirmation Bias - we all have it. We see what we're looking for. Can we make that work for us?
Most of us would readily admit that our perceptions color how we see. Did you know that your thoughts and emotions color not just how you see, but what you see, whether you see, and whether you see things that are not even there? There is a cognitive disorder that we all have, something called “confirmation bias”, which shows up in our everyday judgments.
In a wine tasting, the term “blind tasting” refers to a tasting where all of the external cues have been removed. There was a famous study that took place in 2001 at the University of Bordeaux School of Enology. Fifty-seven people were given two wines to taste and rate. One bottle was labeled vin de table (think house red) and the other bottle was labeled with a very prestigious Bordeaux label.
Nor surprisingly, the Bordeaux label wine was rated by most of the tasters as “good” and the other wine was rated as “weak”. In fact, it was all the same wine, and the wine was of a quality in the middle. The subjects unconsciously made the taste in their mouths confirm their label bias.
About 5 years ago, Joshua Bell, a world-class famous violinist, took part in a videotaped experiment where he donned street clothes and a baseball cap, went down into one of the DC metro stations at rush hour, and played six stunning classical works, including one of the most difficult violin pieces ever composed, on a Stradivarius, worth a few million.
In 1 hour, over 1,000 people rushed by without a glance. A few nights prior, the musician who had packed Symphony Hall in Boston for over $100/ticket, could not draw a tiny crowd or earn 50 bucks in change. Confirmation bias.
I was at a bridal shower, and the hostess played a memory game with us. A young woman had a tray filled with an unrelated assortment of items. Without saying a word, she slowly made her way around the room, pausing for a few moments in front of each of us. We all stared intently at the items on the tray – although nothing was said - we all assumed it would be some kind of memory game to see how many items we could memorize on the tray.
When she was done, the young woman left the room. “OK – get out your pens and paper”, the hostess was smiling, “and now write down everything you can remember the young woman was wearing!” Very funny.
So the next time you are overly-focused or intent on something, allow for the possibility that you are looking for the wrong thing. Or when you pass by something that you think is worthless, ask yourself whether you are missing out on something that is in fact beautiful or that contains an amazing lesson to be learned.
Don’t be fooled by something – or someone – with an impressive label, and don’t be a snob either – you miss out on great stuff. Do we perceive harmless comments as insults? When our spouse comes home late, do we have compassion for their hard day or do we feel slighted? Do we see the food stain on our child’s face and miss their big toothy smile? What do we see? What do we miss? What do we mis-perceive or distort in an effort to make reality conform to our biases?
So, the question is, can we make confirmation bias work FOR us instead of AGAINST us? That’s the challenge and the inner work of conscious living, and it can make your world suddenly so much more vibrant, alive, and filled with joy.