Confirmation Bias – Are We Wired To Be Judgmental?
Why are first impressions so important? Are we really wired to be judgmental? Firstly, I feel compelled to share my thoughts about social media. Years ago, before the advent of social media, I would have spent the night watching an event like the blood moon eclipse essentially alone – watching it in wonder and awe with little conversation about it with a few select people.
As I sit here tonight, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with the connectivity and utter thrill of sharing this event with hundreds of people all over social media. On Facebook alone, folks were uploading images of the moon and their personal and on the spot experiences and photos for everyone to see and comment on.
Events like this one are just the tip of this massive social iceberg. Even though it was cloudy here in PA, and I, unfortunately, missed this awe-inspiring event, I was able to vicariously enjoy it via the experiences of some people I connect with. Pretty awesome if I may say so myself.
Now, to the post at hand. I recently watched a Big Think YouTube video titled, Confirmation Bias: Your Brain is So Judgmental. This short video prompted me to rethink my thoughts on first impressions and judgment in a new and interesting light. We’ve all heard about how important first impressions are, and I think I can safely say we all assume this to be true based on our own personal experiences. On the other hand, I’m prompted to ask if this psychological context has become an unquestioned idiom in our way of thinking and our overall belief system.
What Is Confirmation Bias? It is a type of cognitive bias that involves favoring information that confirms previously existing beliefs or biases. It also impacts how people gather information and also influences how people interpret and recall information. Essentially, confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one’s beliefs.
There are so many questions regarding confirmation bias that we need to ask ourselves before we leap into believing it to be a truth. Are our initial hunches about people correct? Do we instantly make assessments about people within the few seconds we meet them? Why is our brain wired to be judgmental? Are we programmed to judge others immediately based on pre-conceived notions based on idioms that we’ve been conditioned into believing? I would tend to think that once our psychological state changes, so do our preconceived notions about everything we’ve once held to believe.
Example, if someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, the way they perceive the world would change and hence the way we think about everyone in would change too. There are so many variables here but let’s assume everyone is good mental health. The way we see the world and the judgments we make are based on first impressions concept and are already clouded with judgment before we even have a first encounter with someone.
When meeting someone for the first time, why do our brains base such an importance on our initial hunches and seem to ignore everything else? The science on first impressions shows that they are more important than we think they are. It seems as if we are left with more questions than answers. Do we judge others as a form of self-preservation and immediately make a decision to either like or not like someone based on it? One theory states it’s because our ancestors rarely had the luxury of taking weeks and weeks to decide which situations were dangerous and which situations were safe and making these snap judgments were essential to our survival. If they made a bad judgment call, they might not survive the encounter.
If you meet someone and you immediately get a negative vibe about them, don’t you always trust that vibe and never really give that person a chance to prove that he or she is not really a jerk or a threat? It seems we always listen to that little voice inside our heads that tells us to either avoid that person or continue to make connections with them. While this can be a self-preserving action, it can also lead to making false judgments about people.
There are times when people have proven us wrong, and our first assessments were incorrect – they were really nice and not the jerk we once thought, but that often takes a lot of work and time on their part to prove this to be true to us. So, what does all the research this tell us? Maybe we are hard-wired to be judgmental and it might be for all the right reasons after all.
Do we have a chance to make a good second impression? Of course. Research also shows that if there is an outcome dependency – if you have to reassess your first impression because of a need – let’s say you have to work with that person or need them in your life in some other way, then yes, we can reassess our initial beliefs about that person, and make a reassessment based on our continued experiences with them.
I think first impressions can also be very misleading. They can often be clouded with anxiety and situational circumstances that are out of our control such as job interviews or other instances of an anxiety-producing social encounter. We all know that in our day-to-day situations, general aspects such as how we look, how we present ourselves and even eye contact is what can make a difference in how we are perceived – again judgments that we all make intuitively and on the fly.
Once we’ve made these initial judgments, do you ever pause to think about how the other person must feel? Do you ever question your decision after you’ve initially judged someone in a negative light? Statistics say, probably not. Personally, I like to think I’ve always tried to give the other person a chance to prove that my first impression was not correct, but that’s only if I’ve had a vested interest in my need to know them. Once we’ve made these snap judgments about other people, we rarely change our minds later unless both parties do all the hard work to prove differently.
How not to be judgmental:
- You can think about your connections with others in a spiritual way. Thinking about the universe and everything in it in a connected light does help us to stop being judgmental.
- Empathy – try to put yourself in that person’s situation. Stop and think about how it must feel like to be them.
- Remembering that if your feet have walked this earth – you’ve made mistakes. We all need a little forgiveness. Understand that mistakes are a universal pathway to growth and change.
- Take your emotions out of the situation. Be Spock-like in your thinking. Greet new people with an emotional blank slate. Let the overall experience not your initial feelings about it guide you.
- Stop judging yourself! Once you’ve freed yourself from constant self-judgment, you will have a clearer vision of your perceptions about others.
How do you deal with confirmation bias? I’d like to know.
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