Overcoming Confirmation Bias

Dr. Keith Witt Defenses, Ethical, Intrapersonal, Moral, Perspectives, Psychology, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith 2 Comments

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r. Keith and Corey explore the two primary forms of reasoning — confirmatory reasoning, otherwise known as “confirmation bias”, and exploratory reasoning, which considers multiple perspectives and anticipates criticism and objection to one’s views and positions.

Most of us like to think we have already overcome our own confirmation bias, but this is rarely the case. The vast majority of us are operating via confirmatory reasoning every day of our lives, punctuated by brief occasions of explanatory reasoning. This is particularly true in the social media age, when external algorithms are unconsciously reinforcing our worldviews with every click and fragmenting us into clashing cults of information.

Because that’s the key to exploratory reasoning — we only tend to do it when we know that we must engage with others who might be more intelligent and well-informed than ourselves, and whose views are unknown to us.

When was the last time you experienced that on Facebook?

On the other hand, when we are primarily engaging with people who’s views we already know (or assume to know, as is more often the case), we tend to resort to our confirmatory reasoning as a way to reinforce our credibility or social status.

And when we are talking to people we perceive as overly hostile or aggressive, we tend to abandon reason altogether.

When was the last time you experienced THAT on Facebook?

Watch as Dr. Keith and Corey explore these two critical types of reasoning, and how our critical and moral reasoning evolves as we shift into more integral stages of development.

Moral Reasoning and the Shift to 2nd Tier

Dr. Keith Witt

Most of us make instantaneous decisions about right and wrong, safe or unsafe, based on unconscious associations, defensive programming, and cultural conditioning. We have a vast adaptive unconscious—what I call our Shadow—which communicates to us via emotions, impulses and stories for better (constructive Shadow) or worse (destructive Shadow). As soon as we have a moral position/feeling/judgment we instinctively look for rationalizations to support it. We can question and explore such decisions to look for deeper truths, but this is rare.

Two forms of moral reasoning are exploratory reasoning and confirmatory reasoning.

Exploratory moral reasoning — not having a firm opinion, looking from different perspectives, and making a reasoned decision.

Real exploratory moral reasoning hardly ever happens, but for over two hundred years, social scientists maintained it was how people made moral decisions.

  • Kohlberg asked moral reasoning questions, but that’s not how most of our moral decisions are made.
  • People can learn exploratory moral reasoning but need to be able to first observe their reflexive intuitive moral reasoning (confirmatory reasoning).
  • We crave approval from our social contexts and have trouble with exploratory moral reasoning that might be disapproved of by cultures we identify with.
  • We are more likely to use exploratory moral reasoning if we believe we are being observed by a knowledgeable and competent audience.

Confirmatory moral reasoning — we have a reflexive moral response and immediately look for rationalizations to support it.

This is called “confirmation bias” and most people do it constantly.

  • Hume was one of the first modern philosophers to suggest that the passions guided the mind far more than the mind guided the passions.
  • There is a vast literature that supports confirmatory reasoning as the primary mode of moral reasoning for humans.
  • Lessic Wilakowski’s “Infinite cornucopia” is a major resource for confirmatory moral reasoning via google.
  • We embrace confirming material as in “Can this material support my position?”
  • We resist non-confirming material as in “Must I change my position in the face of this data?”
  • From an Integral standard, development requires confirmatory reasoning to be included and transcended into exploratory moral reasoning.

Awareness regulates

We can be aware of our moral snap judgments and do polarity thinking (Beena Sharma’s polarity work is a great example) on whatever issue or situation arises, but this requires 2nd tier altitudes to avoid 1st tier blindspots.

Doing this is challenging, because we’re simultaneously informed by all our moral systems, based on at least 6 dimensions which developed as moral solutions to evolutionary problems (taken from The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt). These dimensions include:

  1. Care/harm
  2. Fairness/cheating
  3. Loyalty/betrayal
  4. Authority/subversion
  5. Sanctity/degradation
  6. Liberty/oppression

All six of these reflect emergent problems in human tribes that needed reflexive moral reactions to adjust towards prosocial positions which would ultimately give the tribe a competitive edge.

Observing violations of these six dimensions often evokes moral disgust. Disgust evolved as an affect to guard the mouth from contamination, but has been integrated into guarding the social holon from disapproval, contamination, and exclusion.

Observing moral beauty on any of these six dimensions often evokes warm loving feelings of moral elevation and desires to be a better person.

We have Wise Self at every moral level and altitude. Our Wise Self can always provide the most good, the most beautiful, and the most true perspectives available, but will always be interpreted (and rationalized) through our current moral center of gravity.

In psychotherapy we activate the client’s Wise Self and encourage the client to do moral reasoning from the Wise Self position, and to even engage in dialogues with others selves. If Wise Self disagrees with a previous opinion, it can create positive confusion, and even changed perspectives.

To influence others, it doesn’t work to debate, attack, or condemn. It does help to empathize, look for shared ground, and take a gentle exploratory, curious attitude.

If a person believes their group has changed a perspective, then they are more likely to change that perspective.

In Integrally informed psychotherapy this Wise Self process is played out through the therapist’s AQAL understanding of the client and therapist and the various cultures they are embedded in.

Music by Justin Miles and Stuart Davis

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Please point me to everything/anything that supports this presentation and Dr. Witts application in therapy. Dr. Witt has my attention riveted. Brilliant.

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