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Chapter 9. Step 2: Interpret > Beware of Confirmation Bias and Suggestion

Beware of Confirmation Bias and Suggestion

Another obstacle to rational thinking is confirmation bias, which occurs when you look only for information to confirm your position and ignore any conflicting data. Let’s say you are shopping for a car, and you’re already leaning toward a particular brand. You will tend to focus on all of the positive information you hear or read about that brand and filter negative information that does not support your leaning. This concept is even truer if you have a particular loyalty to a certain brand. In fact, according to a marketing research study done by Dick Wittink and M. Guah, automobile brand loyal consumers will pay anywhere from $1,051 to $7,410 more than nonbrand loyal customers because their confirmation bias discounts facts and interferes with their rational processing, even on something as concrete as price.[8]

[8] Wittink, Dick, and Guah, M.. Marketing research done for Cornerstone Research, Cambridge, MA, 1997.

The same bias occurs in our relationships with others. If we have already decided we like a particular person or coworker, we do not judge his or her behaviors as harshly as we may someone we like less. Managers have been taught for years to be concerned with “the halo effect” when preparing employee ratings. The halo effect tends to filter perceptions so that the manager perceives only positive information because he or she had a positive bias toward the employee. No wonder claims of favoritism arise. Likewise, if you view a particular coworker in a negative light sometimes called “the horns effect,” you will look for information that confirms your bias.[9] From an emotional intelligence point of view, this information can have an important impact that will set the stage for your encounters with that person. Each encounter is an opportunity to prove our bias. So, because we think Louise is a whiner, we search her words for complaints and ignore any positive comments she may make. Conversely, our favorable opinion of Harry allows us to overlook his negative behaviors. And more often than not, this information will be based on first impressions that are difficult to overcome.

[9] Ilgen, D.R., and Klein, H.J. “Organizational Behavior.” In M.R. Rosenzweig and L.W. Porter (Eds), Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 40. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews, 1989.


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