Confirmation Bias and How to Embrace Being Wrong – #UX

When we design anything, be it user experiences, gamified experiences or even just Lego buildings – we become emotionally involved with what we are doing. We invest ourselves in the process and the outcomes of the process.

Because of this, it can be very hard for us to accept someone telling us that they think we may be wrong. When they tell us you should really have used a 4 block not a 6 block on that side of the wall to make it stronger, but we have already finished the wall – the last thing we want to accept is that they may be right and taking apart the wall would lead to a better end model! So we engage our Confirmation Bias to help us justify continuing on what may well be the wrong path.

But what is Confirmation Bias?

The Americal Psychology Association (APA) defines Confirmation Bias as:

Confirmation Bias is the tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one’s preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data.

Basically, it is a refusal to accept you may be wrong despite any evidence that might prove that you are! As insanely successful investor Warren Buffet

What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.

So back to our Lego example, even though all evidence may point to a 4 block being better where you had put a 6 block, you won’t change the design because “you know you are right”. In reality, all that is happening is your brain is saying “Hey, invested time and effort into building this wall, there is no way I am going to take it apart now because a few people say I am wrong. Actually, if you look at it, I think it is much better as it is, it looks nicer and I am certain it is stronger.”

Loss aversion plays a strong part there as well. You have invested time and effort and don’t want to feel that it was wasted because you were wrong and may have to start again.

How Do We Avoid Confirmation Bias and Embrace Being Wrong?

This is the key question, which we need to break down into avoiding confirmation bias and embracing being wrong.

Two quotes are very helpful here. The first is from my father-in-law!

When you are absolutely certain you are right, consider the possibility you may be wrong.

The second is from Aubrey De Graf an English author and biomedical genealogist.

Don’t Cling to a Mistake Just Because You Spent a lot of Time Making it.

So we can avoid confirmation bias by listening to those around us, taking on board their opinions, and using the facts provided to challenge rather than reinforce our current assumptions.  It may be that after that, you really were right all along, but at least you will know for sure! I find asking my wife for her opinion on things I am making can work wonders – she will be 100% honest with me. Of course, we should always go back to the users to check our assumptions. It is easy to do initial research, and then run off with an idea YOU think is great. You should constantly be going back to user groups and testing your hypotheses and adapting your design to match new proven information.

The key is an open mind. You might be wrong. You might not be. You won’t know until you test and challenge your ideas. If you are wrong, be adaptable. Embrace the new information safe in the knowledge that you will build something better by integrating it rather than ignoring it!

If we combine these ideas we have a very handy rule of thumb for questioning ourselves during the design process of anything.

No matter how invested you are in your past actions, always be open to information that challenges your assumptions, to the possibility you could be wrong, and to the need to be adaptable moving forwards

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Also published on Medium.

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