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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for data, interpret new evidence, favor one’s existing beliefs, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior suppositions or values. This phenomenon can make people less likely to consider information that challenges their views.

A “belief” is the acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. As well, “evidence” relates to the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

Confirmation bias occurs when our existing acceptance of something as being accurate takes precedence over new information which challenges our assumption. We may accept some of the new evidence though we also reject facts we don’t like or which we don’t want to acknowledge as legitimate.

Our beliefs about new evidence can even lead to an uncomfortable feeling (emotion or sensation). This effect is known as cognitive dissonance—the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, it’s worth noting that new evidence isn’t what causes discomfort in this regard. Rather, it’s what we believe about the additional information which results in an unpleasant consequence.

As an example, when I practiced religious faith I was taught to expect persecution for my beliefs. At the time, I believed that Yeshua was the son of G-d, He died for my sins, He rose from the dead, and one day He would judge all humans.

Those in positions of authority said that nonbelievers would mistreat me just as Yeshua had been mistreated. After all, to be a Christian was to be Christ-like. Evidence to support the belief of Christians being oppressed was featured in biblical verses such as John 15:19-20:

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Therefore, when I proselytized to others and was treated poorly, I used their predictable response as information which was self-evident—a matter that is considered to be true through understanding of its meaning and without the need for proof.

I believed I was on the narrow path of righteousness. This is because it was an unfalsifiable claim to state that G-d existed. I could never prove His existence, nor could others disprove my belief.

Likewise, per my level of bias at the time and because no one alive in my lifetime could prove or disprove that Yeshua hadn’t died and been resurrected, self-evident persecution served as evidence of how strong my confirmed beliefs were.

Still, when people didn’t insult my views and instead posed Socratic method-style questions (e.g., How might you be wrong in your belief?), I experienced cognitive dissonance when believing that perhaps they had valid points concerning my conviction.

I expected persecution—which somehow proved my devotion—though I wasn’t prepared for critical thinking. The belief that led to my emotional discomfort was something like, “I must be doing something wrong, because these questions are causing me to doubt my faith.”

My existing beliefs were in conflict with new evidence and my assumptions about these beliefs caused discomfort in the form of cognitive dissonance. Because I created the unproductive consequence (e.g., fear of a lapse in faith), I could also remedy this result by altering my beliefs.

This didn’t require changing my religious principles. However, challenging the irrational beliefs about my perceived failure as a Christian would’ve been helpful. Now that I practice REBT, I understand that disputation of unfavorable beliefs can result in more favorable interpretations of the circumstances I experience.

Herein, I’ve addressed the concepts of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. Understanding how these elements may be addressed through use of REBT, are you prepared to learn more about how they can help you?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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