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Reducing Confirmation Bias and THE MUSEUM OF FAILURES by Thrity Umrigar


Cover of the book The Museum of Failures used as a teaching example for confirmation bias

Remy thought he completely understood his life. Here’s the story that he'd have told you on page one of this book. Remy was born in India to a caring, fun, loving father and a cold, judgmental, and withholding mother. Dad played with him, encouraged his talents, and always provided warm and supportive advice. Mom, conversely, was sometimes physically abusive, frequently ignored Remy, and spoke sharp words in harsh tones.

 

As an adult on the cusp of parenthood himself, three years after his dad’s death, Remy returns to India and cares for his ailing mother. During this trip, he learns a family secret that completely reverses everything he thought was true about his parents and upbringing.

 

Remy misunderstood his life and family dynamic because of confirmation bias, the tendency to notice, interpret, remember, and believe evidence that fits within our existing belief structure. Put simply – once you buy into something once, you’re more likely to trust or find data supporting that idea in the future.

 

Confirmation bias impacts how we search for, interpret, and remember information about the world around us. It can affect how we feel about everything, from interpreting research about public policy to selectively recalling disagreements.

 

Reducing the impact of confirmation bias on your perception and decision-making is a healthy, though challenging, goal. Here are some tips to try:

 

  • Talk to people with opposing views.

  • Reframe your questions in more neutral language.

  • Seek holes in your logic.

  • Pick a viewpoint and research another side.

  • Actively watch for moments when you are wrong or mistaken.

  • Allow new insight to impact your perception.

  • Reframe change as growth, not flip-flopping.

Remember, these steps must be continually repeated because we have firmly held beliefs in innumerable areas of daily life. The work is worth it, as reducing confirmation bias will allow you to see things more clearly and improve your ability to relate to people with differing mindsets.  


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