Google The Opposite: Try This Strategy To Avoid Confirmation Bias And Become More Objective In Your Thinking
By John Berardi, PhDReputation Development
Health and fitness is rampant with cognitive biases. One of the worst? Confirmation bias. This is where folks—often subconsciously—search for (and favor) info that confirms current beliefs. Sadly, this short circuits clear thinking and halts growth in its tracks. In this article I’ll share my favorite strategy for avoiding it.
The Dangers of Confirmation Bias
Humans, myself included, commit some of the same errors over and over again. Not because we’re stupid or thoughtless but because we’re human and those errors are often hardwired.
For example, whenever we like an idea or theory, it’s our natural tendency to look for (and overemphasize) evidence to support it. Likewise we tend to avoid (or underemphasize) evidence that contradicts it.
This “confirmation bias”—often done subconsciously instead of intentionally—helps us in that it simplifies our stories about the world. However, it can have disastrous effects when we’re trying to learn, grow, and make better decisions.
This becomes a bigger problem when, in addition to our own selective information processing, search engines and social media sites show us more of what they think we’ll like instead of showing us a varied sampling of the ideas out there. Indeed, when we turn to this kind of media for most of our info, we end up seeing only stories that confirm our current beliefs. This leaves us completely blind to valid but opposing views.
It’s for this reason, I practice something I call Google The Opposite.
How To Google The Opposite
Whenever I find myself liking an idea or theory or piece of work, I make a point to search for resources from the opposition. The more strongly I find myself liking or clinging to something, the more important it is that I Google The Opposite and hear from intelligent people who don’t agree. This challenges my thinking and helps to round out my understanding.
For instance, I recently read a book on attachment theory by developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld. It deeply resonated with me. However, since I’m not trained in developmental psychology, I wanted to see what others were saying about his ideas. So I searched for things like:
- “Gordon Neufeld attachment theory unscientific”,
- “Gordon Neufeld attachment theory debunked”,
- “Gordon Neufeld attachment theory incorrect”,
- “Gordon Neufeld attachment theory wrong”.
Since I spent a few weeks reading all about his attachment theory, I went out of my way to spend an equivalent amount of time looking for, and reading materials from, other respected psychologists who disagreed.
This isn’t always easy to do. The more I like an idea, the more hesitant I am to look for its flaws. Yet, every time I do it I get deeper insight into particular ideas, as well as entire fields of study. Further, I’m prevented from ignorantly adopting a worldview without subjecting it to intellectual rigor.
Don’t Forget Your Own Area Of Expertise
Googling The Opposite helps me emerge as a more mature thinker. Especially when I apply it to my own areas of expertise.
Over the years I’ve learned that the closer a person is to an idea, the more likely they are to fall prey to a host of biases and the less likely they are to look for productive challenges that help them improve their ideas.
That’s why I take Google the Opposite so seriously. It’s one way I try to prioritize learning, growing, and making better decisions even over appearing right or defending the ideas I’ve arrived at hastily.
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