Psychology concept of the day: Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias – A tendency to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions.

– David Myers, Social Psychology, 8th Ed., pg. 112.

Confirmation bias – connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.

– Raymond Nickerson, Review of General Psychology, 1998

No doubt all sides of recent political and public policy issues will accuse each other of engaging in confirmation bias. However, let’s see how many examples we can find. I may be adding more to this post as time permits.

  • MIchael Bussee

    “Confirmation bias – A tendency to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions

    Examples? Well, NARTHian “science” immediately leaps to mind. So does the entire reparative therapy movement, for that matter — presume that gayness is a disorder or sickness and then look retroactively for “causes”.

    Same could be said of bashing gays with Scriptural passages that seem to condemn all homosexual behavior or relationships — while bypassing all sorts of Biblical prohibitions that most “Bible-believing” Christians conveniently ignore.

  • Ann

    Confirmation bias – A tendency to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions.

    Referring to another as “homophobic” if they are not in complete agreement with or question any part of homosexuality.

  • MIchael Bussee

    I agree with Ann. “Homohobic” should be reserved for persons who have an irrational fear of gays or of becoming gay themselves.

    Those who (1) hate homosexuals, or (2) are personally offended/disgusted by homosexuality, or (3) think that gays should remain in the closet, or (4) believe that gays should try to “change”, or (5) insist that homosexuality is morally/psychologically inferior to heterosexuality, or (6) believe that homosexuality is a “life-dominating sin”, or (7) argue that gays should not have the same civil rights as others, or (8) that homosexuality ought to be reclassified as a “mental illness” or (9) re-criminalized should be called by some other, more accurate and more pejorative term.

  • Lynn David

    When does confirmation bias turn into OCD?

  • David Blakeslee

    This is a very good topic.

    Confirmation bias among researchers is painfully likely.

    However, what is most troubling is the advocacy groups who are clearly using this bias when citing and reviewing research.

    The media could blunt this effect very easily by describing this kind of analytical trouble when citing every piece of research, especially when that research is cited by an advocacy organization.

  • Mary

    And cite the opposing advocacy groups.

  • Ann

    The media could blunt this effect very easily by describing this kind of analytical trouble when citing every piece of research, especially when that research is cited by an advocacy organization.

    David Blakeslee,

    The media might be more confirmation biased than any other group or person.

  • David Blakeslee

    Ann,

    I think that is the point, but a science writer ought to be able to embed this in an article as part of sharing both sides of the data, which they often do.

    I wonder if those on a media beat assume we all know and are compensating for confirmation bias as readers.

    Confirmation bias explains who watches CNN and FOX.

    It explains NARTH and Human Rights Campaign.

    With over 100,000 members, APA has a documented liberal policy world view and it likely effects the construction of scientific studies, the collection of data and the interpretation of results….

    NARTH has yet to give a presentation affirmative therapies for SSA that lower the incidence of STD’s and improve interpersonal relationships.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Ann and Michael,

    I don’t think that I agree that calling someone a homophobe is Confirmation Bias.

    I do think that googling persons and listing only those quotes which present them in such a light might be to some extent – and I’ve done that myself. But… I guess if they were NOT homophobic then they wouldn’t have said things that demonstrated animus or bias.

    Of course, if I went out looking for homophobic statements and said, “see this proves all Christians are homophobes”, then I would definitely be engaging in Confirmation Bias. I would also be grossly wrong.

    And Michael… though you may wish there were a separate more accurate term than homophobia (due, I suppose to the “phobia” part), it is the word commonly used and understood (and thus the most “correct” word) for bigotry that is specifically directed to gay or same-sex attracted persons (or those so believed to be).

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    One area where I think Confirmation Bias is readily observable is the issue surrounding Fraternal Birth Order.

    It seem, at least to me, that those who wish to believe in it have had little trouble finding it. And those who wish it not to be the case can’t find it at all.

    Clearly at least one side – and probably both sides – are setting out to confirm what they believe.

  • Boo

    Pretty much all the work of J. Michael Bailey, Ray Blanchard, and Kenneth Zucker in regards to the transgendered, and most of Bailey’s work on femininity in gay men.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Lynn David – You want to expand on that Q?

  • Ann

    Michael,

    I have often heard the Bible used for confirmation bias as well. That might or might not have an effect on someone who understands the Judeo/Christian religions but it has little to no effect on those who have a different religion or no religion at all.

    An area of interest might be various web sites that cite other web sites or blogs to bolster their bias on any particular subject. I actually think this particular blog is one of the few that has demonstrated fairness to all opinions and thoughts on it’s subject matters.

    Regarding the word “homophobe” – it has been unjustly, incorrectly, and unneccessarily used far too often. I cited it as an example for this topic because I have seen it used as confirmation bias to bolster the belief that people who are not in complete agreement with or question various aspects of homosexuality are homophobic, therefore an adversary.

  • Lynn David

    Not particularly, Warren…. I realize you are speaking more in terms of a researcher interpreting the results of an experiment, but I was thinking of something such as hypochondria as an OCD. It would seem that there is a matter of some sort of confirmatory reasoning in any obsessive compulsive disorder. To some degree an overtly enhanced belief bias surely is a phenomenon of some sort of psychopathology, if not leading to an OCD. No?

  • Lynn David

    Make that an “enhanced overt belief bias” (though either adjective is probably enough, taken together both are probably overkill).

  • Jayhuck

    Ann

    I cited it as an example for this topic because I have seen it used as confirmation bias to bolster the belief that people who are not in complete agreement with or question various aspects of homosexuality are homophobic, therefore an adversary.

    That may be true, but that doesn’t mean that people who are not in complete agreement or who question various aspects of homosexuality AREN’T homophobic either. Homophobia can be a very subtle, under the surface, kind of thing – its not always obvious to the person who may be feeling this way. FYI

  • Ann

    but that doesn’t mean that people who are not in complete agreement or who question various aspects of homosexuality AREN’T homophobic either. Homophobia can be a very subtle, under the surface, kind of thing – its not always obvious to the person who may be feeling this way. FYI

    Jayhuck,

    I know it is important for you to believe this about people. It might also be a good example of confirmation bias.

  • Mary

    Ann,

    I agree. The mdeia is very one sided in reporting. Even when I agree I wonder – “Hey – they didn’t report the other side of things??”

  • David Blakeslee

    Confirmation Bias:

    Suppressing homoerotic feelings damages the psyche.

    SSA in men is due to an alienated relationship with father and an enmeshed relationship with mother.

    Religion is an oppressive belief system that interferes with human advancement.

    Warren Throckmorton is evil.

    Oops.

  • David Blakeslee

    More Confirmation Bias:

    Abraham Lincoln had a good male friend whom he slept with at night…he must be gay.

    Jonathon and David loved each other, they must be gay.

    Gay men contract HIV at a high rate, this is a sign of God’s judgment.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    David – Technically these are attributions which may result from bias. Given the inability to research or observe these attributions, I suspect cognitive biases are at work – one of which is confirmation bias.

    Beating Jayhuck to the punch, I might ask how you define evil. I would go along with this kind of description

  • Pingback: Warren Throckmorton » Confirmation bias, NARTH and the use of research

  • Ann

    Don’t most sales people who sell a product or service and receive a commission for the number of sales they make have a confirmation bias? Their mind is already made up that they will convince the buyer to buy the product or service and overcome any objection they can to make the sale.

  • Mary

    Ann,

    Sometimes. As a sales person myself, as soon as I do not believe in the product or service – my sales begin to decline. As well, another sales member may not have my view and his/her sales will remain steady or climb. And the clients is also biased. Either because the benefit they recieve is great or the benefit they recieve is not great. There are the Cokes and the Pepsi’s of the world. And a bunch of rationalization for both. Guess one size does not fit all.

    I read Warren’s comments I can only believe that he also has bias. While someone like myself has benefitted from NARTH’s work and some of their work etc… Warren seems to be denouncing all. Again, a bias at work. As well, I have read Warrren’s SIT and find it also helpful. Not completely as it foucses on men but again some.

    Were I too entertain any side fully and to the exclusion of the other, I would miss out on a whole bunch of valuable information

    Confirmation bias does not belong to NARTH alone, nor to ex gays alone, nor to gays alone, nor to Warren alone – but to us all.

  • David Blakeslee

    Confirmation bias in research is an insidious form of what goes on for those in the general public who have a specific ax to grind.

    The fact that researchers, historians, virologists and biblical scholars twist their skills to support their biases is a misuse of their training and a betrayal of public trust.

    “Warren Throckmorton undermines our side of the argument when he picks at NARTH’s defects”

    “See, he has done it again…proof!”

    Why not consider the actual criticism levied at the content posted at NARTH to determine if the assertions made can be supported by the science? Rather than criticizing a colleague who is pointing out the obvious oversight problems at NARTH, make NARTH better.

  • Ann

    David Blakeslee,

    Who are you directing the post to?

  • David Blakeslee

    Just pushing the examples to a logical conclusion, that good people doing good things will be criticized because what they end up discovering does not confirm a bias that a group has.

    Happens on both sides: Throckmorton and Bailey.

  • Mary

    David,

    I read the things at NARTH. I do not totally agree with them anymore than I totally agree with anyone. They however, have their opinion. I think they have shown that not everyone will change or leave homosexuality. Therapy does not always have the end result that the client wanted.

    It seems to me that when Warren’s ideas were not accepted over there that a rift began. I’m not sure. Suffice to say these two have differing philosphies. Not everything is bad about NARTH and I would like to see them open up to more information. I would also like to see Warren up to more information. He has made some statments that I find ignorant – perhaps because most of his work is with men.

  • Boo

    Just pushing the examples to a logical conclusion, that good people doing good things will be criticized because what they end up discovering does not confirm a bias that a group has.

    Happens on both sides: Throckmorton and Bailey.

    Bailey’s work on transsexualism is a textbook example of confirmation bias. He deliberately went to prostitute bars like Crobar and El Gato Negro to recruit subjects for his research and then concluded that transsexuals were likely to engage in prostitution. He also accuses everyone who doesn’t fit the categories he espouses of lying or being deluded, with no supporting evidence of any kind. He has also claimed that gay men who deny feminity in childhood must be lying, again with no evidence of any kind to back up his assertion.

    Of course, Bailey’s lying has never seemed to be much of an issue for this blog…

    And PS- a guy who wants to exterminate us is not on our “side.”

  • Mary

    Boo,

    Look at it. Many gay people call ex gays anti gay even when we do not tow that party line. I suppose they do this to confirm that ex gays are ALL bad so as not to step across that line that might – might – change their opinion about those who leave the lifestyle. Having a postive opinion about an ex gay might change the way gays see themselves??? That’s a scarey thing to do.

  • David Blakeslee

    Thanks for asking for Clarification.

    Regarding Boo’s comments.

    Would it be easier to substitute Spitzer for Bailey?

    Talk about trashing somebody scientifically and creating a climate of fear; all because those with confirmation bias generalize his narrow findings.

    It is amazing how we can resort to “shouting eachother down;” in the name of openmindedness.

  • Eddy

    I’ve always had a peculiar interest in the English language. Words: what they mean…where they came from. “Homophobia” or “homophobic””. That’s 4 letters of its roots from ‘homo’ and 6 letters from ‘phobia’ or ‘phobic’. I can’t buy dismissing the essential meaning of ‘phobia/phobic’ from our ‘common usage’ definition of Homophobic. The term can’t rightfully be ascribed to many of us who blog here–and thousands of others like us–who know in our hearts that we have no fear or hatred of homosexuals. When you alter the ‘common usage’ of the word to include those who have no fear or hatred, you make us disappear inside of your new definition. Feels like ‘elimination bias’.

  • concerned

    Eddy,

    You are correct and it is a tool that has been used far too long now to close off any open and honest discussion on the causes and different experiences of people who struggle with SSA. It is also a very obvious bullying tactic that has been used at all levels to marginalize those who do not see things the way others do. In this atmosphere of “political correctness” it has been effective, but ultimately it is based on falsehoods and therefore will eventually loose its power.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    More Confirmation Bias:

    Abraham Lincoln had a good male friend whom he slept with at night…he must be gay.

    Actually I have seen people use confirmation bias on this story.

    Ignoring entirely the long list of evidence (a pattern of sharing beds with other males over decades – including documented male “bed sharers” in the White House where there certainly didn’t seem to be either a shortage of beds or particularly ineffective heating), I’ve seen those who want to believe that Lincoln could not POSSIBLY have had a sexual interest in men do the great circular evidence game. They quote some other researcher who agrees with them and claim that this is conclusive evidence. They also omit anything that might tarnish Lincoln’s image.

    Interestingly, I’ve not seen those who think Lincoln might be gay do this.

    And as for Jonathan and David, I’ve seen some theologians jump through hoops trying to explain away both the Biblical scene of the two disrobing together and especially the “love greater than a woman” verses.

    Usually it goes like:

    1. There are no positive Biblical stories of same-sex romantic love

    2. Therefore the Bible unequivicably condemns same-sex romantic love

    3. And because the Bible unequivocably condemns same-sex love, then the story of Jonathan and David was therefore not a positive Biblical story of same-sex romantic love.

    I’m not seeking to defend either one but the efforts taken to deny them are often comical.

  • Boo

    Mary-

    Look at it. Many gay people call ex gays anti gay even when we do not tow that party line. I suppose they do this to confirm that ex gays are ALL bad so as not to step across that line that might – might – change their opinion about those who leave the lifestyle. Having a postive opinion about an ex gay might change the way gays see themselves??? That’s a scarey thing to do.

    And that has… what to do with anything I was talking about?

    Would it be easier to substitute Spitzer for Bailey?

    On this blog, undoubtedly. Warren doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge his friend’s serial dishonesty.

  • Mary

    Boo,

    Just using an example from your own life. Seeing one person or one group as all bad or all good is not reasonable.

    Just the other day, yet another gay man, used Kinsey trying to back up his claims about sexuality. Kinsey who used children in his experiements, mind you. And he has a moral outrage issue when a person, who does not see gay sexuality as healthy, uses the work of a person who has not been enitrely ethical either.

    Just showing that it works both ways.

    I’ve watched the gay community justify deciet, immorality in research etc… just as much as I have watch the conservative community do the same.

  • Boo

    Just using an example from your own life.

    Um… what “example” from my own life are you referring to? I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Kinsey who used children in his experiements, mind you.

    Warren, interestingly, defends this practice himself.

    As far as I can recall, I’ve never said any one person or group is all bad (well, John Money comes close) or all good. I’m also not a big defender of Kinsey. He started the general trend in “sexology” of using extremely sloppy research methods to come to questionable conclusions, which reached its apothesis with John Money ruining untold thousands of lives with unecessary mutilation and lies just so he could make a name for himself, and continues today in the work of people like Ken Zucker (Let’s traumatize kids! We don’t know if it’ll change any actual outcomes, and can’t really justify why those outcomes should be changed, but not following strict gender roles is icky!) Ray Blanchard (You like to jerk off in skirts, right? Just say yes and I’ll give you the magic hormone letter. Also, transwomen should never be studied in comparison to cisgendered women, because, well, I just don’t want to.) and Michael Bailey (If I want to have sex with you, that makes you an irredeemable gay whore, although I’m still straight. If I don’t want to have sex with you, then you should just go have sex with yourself.)

    Also, if you think gay people never have positive opinions of individual ex-gays, you should go check out exgaywatch.

    P.S. What, pray tell, is “the lifestyle?” I myself have a lesbian sexual orientation, but apparently I am in need of guidance as to exactly what “lifestyle” this is supposed to dictate that I lead.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Boo: Whatever did you mean that I defend Kinsey’s work?

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    For the record, I have very positive opinions of some individual ex-gays

  • David Blakeslee

    I find that when there are small verses in scripture that leave a lot of doubt; it is best to let them stand on their own, rather than read too deeply between the lines.

    Non sexual love between men can be better than sexual love between a man and a woman…

    I think Kearns Goodwin and other historians have debunked the “Gay Abe” theory…they are not right wing, fundamentalists; just historians without a “gay axe” to grind.

  • Boo

    @Boo: Whatever did you mean that I defend Kinsey’s work?

    I was referring to the children part, not Kinsey specifically, Sorry if that was unclear. You know, like when Zucker causes kids to have anxiety attacks on seeing the color pink, and the whole “do no harm” thing gets tossed out the window because transkids are small and powerless.

  • Pingback: Warren Throckmorton » Can we believe ex-gays and ex-ex-gays?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X