During the past 4 years working with middle school students in a Social Studies class, I have observed that students are more concerned with content relevance than with credibility, they are more likely to choose information that meets their judgments which are often vague, superficial, and lacking in reasoned justification, and they are more likely to believe information confirming existing beliefs and ideas of themselves, parents, or social groups they belong to.
Confirmation bias is the “tendency to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas.” (Street, 2019). The tendency to confirm existing beliefs, rather than questioning them or seeking new ones became more concerning in the digital age among our students who access all kinds of information through technology. According to ISTE standard 3B, supporting students to evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources by recognizing the influence of confirmation bias becomes urgent.
First, we must understand how confirmation bias works in our brains. According to Street (2019), human brains prefer to take shortcuts without using mental energy to evaluate evidence, especially since we are now constantly receiving new information and have to make complex choices under pressure in the digital age. Accepting information that confirms our belief is much easier and less metal energy consuming. Therefore, our brains tend to avoid contradicting information. It makes confirmation bias to be fundamental to our brain and reality that we might not even realize it is happening.
Street (2019) argued that it is impossible to overcome confirmation bias without an awareness of the concept and behavior. Critically thinking is more motivated to happen when we are held accountable by others. “If we are expected to justify our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors to others, we are less likely to be biased towards confirmatory evidence.”
In the article “Enhance Digital Citizenship with this lesson on Confirmation Bias”, the author used the example of how the human brain is similar to computers in that it takes inputs, processes them and then produces outputs to explain brains can be hacked by bias.
He listed out the steps for teacher to help students to confront confirmation bias by using examples in a lesson plan:
- Define Confirmation Bias
- Conceptualize Confirmation Bias With an Activity
- Connect Confirmation Bias and Digital Citizenship
- Develop Strategies to Overcome Confirmation Bias
- Put These Strategies into Action
The author also shared strategies for students to improve their reasoning process.
- If you have an opinion on a subject, assume that said opinion is wrong.
- When looking for evidence (inputs), look for evidence that may poke holes in the original point of view.
- The more inputs (evidence) you have, the more outputs (data, facts) you can produce.
- Verify that your information is coming from a reliable source.
- Always be willing to change your mind in the face of more evidence.
In conclusion, we must commit to the hard work to recognize and analyze how our biases have shaped us and our society. According to Diddams (2021), while questioning our own beliefs is difficult since biases also create blind spots, the power of unity can support us and our students to be more successful in dealing with biased beliefs in the digital age.
Arreola, M. (2020, June 26). Enhance Digital Citizenship With This Lesson on Confirmation Bias. Https://Equip.Learning.Com/Digital-Citizenship-Confirmation-Bias.
Street, F. (2019, August 3). Confirmation Bias And the Power of Disconfirming Evidence. Farnam Street. https://fs.blog/2017/05/confirmation-bias/
Diddams, M. (2021, February 3). The Rationality of Irrationality. https://christianscholars.com/the-rationality-of-irrationality/