Thursday, December 13, 2012

Turning confirmation bias on it's head

I previously mentioned that a rational approach to persuasion can lead to an entrenched response in opposition of change. This is due to a psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias causes us to pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs, and to ignore information that challenges our preconceived notions. People use new information to become more entrenched in their existing viewpoints.

We see this in politics. When watching a presidential debate, only the undecided voters will be swayed by the rhetoric of the candidates. Once a voter's mind is made up for who they plan to vote for, they will use the new information to reinforce their decision. Whatever their candidate says is considered valid and whatever the other candidate says is considered either incorrect or misleading.

We also see this confirmation bias in conspiracy theorists as well...

xkcd: Conspiracy Theories

What does confirmation bias mean for leadership?

When you start out by presenting a rational argument for change, your listener's lizard brain will generate a response based on the perceived threat of something new that challenges their preexisting beliefs. Their animal brain will generate a negative emotional response. The result will be an entrenched response and a rational argument about why your new approach is wrong, based on facts that support their beliefs.

On the other hand, if you establish an emotional response to your idea before providing reason, your listener will apply confirmation bias in favor of your idea. They will use this new information to become entrenched in their newly formed viewpoint, which works for you instead of against you.

Have you experienced confirmation bias when trying to convince someone to change their mind?