Confirmation Bias Can Hurt

Read time —
3 Minutes
Last updated
February 27, 2024

Confirmation bias can hurt your decisions in the most unusual ways.

I discovered this on a recent slate grey Sunday, when, with the rain falling, we got out some board games to help pass the time.

Connect 4 is a family favourite.

The two-player game where each side has to get 4 matching-coloured discs in a row is easy to play. Although the rules are simple, I had forgotten how frustrating it is to play.

My son kept losing.

His rising anger was clear from the deepening crease above his eyes. His anger wasn’t at me for beating him. It was with himself. It looked to me like he was focusing on one area of play. There appeared to be no thought about how he might lose. He seemed convinced he was going to win.

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Confirmation Bias Playing Games

It looked like confirmation bias was playing for him.

He played too quickly, not pausing to study the board. Tunnel vision was affecting the way my son was playing.

After a string of losses, my son was on the verge of putting the game in the bin.

It was time for me to stop gloating and start helping my son.

As we played an open game, I asked him to verbalise his thoughts.

His explanation confirmed my suspicions. He would drop his coin and look to build a vertical or horizontal line. This was his only focus. If I blocked a potential winning line, he would start building a new one.

I then explained how I would play. Before each move, I would try and think through the moves my opponent might make. I would picture the stacks that might appear and look at if I needed to block them to prevent a future winning move. I explained how his decision-making wasn’t considering this information.

He had to push past the urge to play, study my move and consider what I was doing before making his next move.

In the next game, he won.

Not because I let him, but because he began to think beyond the limits of his confirmation bias. His win showed as much. He built several stacks, forcing me to block one but leave the other open for him to get his 4 in a row.

There is a far broader lesson beyond Connect 4 and it is one which reaches this week’s  One Weekly Decision . It is a reminder of how easy it is for confirmation bias to worm its way into our decisions.

Confirmation bias is forcing you to accept evidence that supports your choice. And it stops you from seeking further evidence that may contradict your initial view.

Think of the harm such an influence can have. Consider the hurt it can cause. Remember how it restricts your thinking.

That's how confirmation bias can hurt.

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