Thursday, September 15, 2016

Coming to Terms with Confirmation Bias

The purpose of this discussion aims at stimulating thought and self awareness as tools to help those in recovery from trauma learn how to make safer choices. To make the discussion more jocular, we've defined Cognitive Biases as “CranioRectal Inversions” (CRI).

On a practical and personal level, I find that many biases overlap, allowing us to see the world favorably and in a way that paints us in a favorable light. As noted in the previous post, we have to trust our own perceptions as reasonably accurate as a starting point, and from that assumption, we can adapt and adjust them in light of new information. If we are healthy and live in optimism, we must trust in our perceptions until we're given cause to do otherwise. We also tend to give others the benefit of the doubt until they give us cause to doubt them.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when we're challenged by new information that conflicts with what we already trust to be real and true. Robert Cialdini highlights how powerful this cognitive dissonance can be for us, explaining how salesmen can use this predisposition for consistency to manipulate us into buying something we don't necessarily want, just to reduce our stress. 

A salesman might say that only the most conscientious use my product, and people who aren't smart enough to care will use a cheaper, inferior alternative. We like people to think of us in the way that we think about ourselves, and we're likely to buy the product just to prove to ourselves that we're smart, thoughtful and caring.

A Helpful Alternative

If I want to reduce my stress level when confronted with challenging information and I don't want to comply, I can rely upon confirmation bias to drop that stress of dissonance created by conflict. Just as we tend to prefer positive ideas about ourselves, we can also prefer to believe what we already believe – a prejudice that supports that which we already trust as truth. This most powerful bias can almost seem like good judgement, and we can rationalize that only information that confirms our stance can be reliable. Anything challenging information or source of it can be dismissed as false or tainted.

Just as we select certain items of information, narrowing hundreds of items down to only a few that we notice, because of our innate tendency towards confirmation bias, we often screen out pertinent information to avoid these challenges. We ignore anything that we wish to dismiss, and we cherry pick only that which supports what we believe.

If something does happen to get through our filtering process and we take in the information that we find challenging, we then have the option of dismissing and discounting it. If it does get past our first line of the denial of defense, we can analyze it in a way that gives it little or no value. The tendency also affects our memory and how we recall information. We believe that we treat all information equally, but we tend to prefer to recall that which supports our bias. Our attention, our thought processes, and our recall all select that which reduces our stress instead of raising it.

Beware the Love Bomb!

Love Bombing” refers to the show of (genuine or feigned) love and affection that a motivated individual or group bestows upon their 'mark' in order to endear themselves. The mark, (the person that a manipulator “marks” or targets as an object to be exploited) in a very subjective response to the overwhelming, pleasant experience of the great show of affection, becomes biased towards the manipulator, preferring only information that paints the people who have been good to them in a positive light.

The subtle and very powerful influence exploits deeply personal, very human needs, wants and desires so that the person who has been targeted will likely not notice any hint of manipulation. Until they're given significant and painful cause to doubt their manipulator, most people will dismiss or deny anything negative about them. Confirmation bias causes them to prefer the manipulator. Love bombing encompasses two of Cialdini's weapons of influence: consistency as well as liking – aided by our tendency towards confirmation bias.

So many people have told me that they never would have believed that their pastor was capable of spiritual abuse if it had not happened to them personally. Even after the fact, cognitive bias – our preference for people who we like and want to see in a positive light – interferes with our recovery. How could we have been so wrong?

The term “love bombing” actually originated within the Unification Church and was frequently used by Reverend Moon himself as early as the 1970’s. Other “Bible-based cults” or cultic Evangelical Christian groups, per the testimony of former members, also used this very terminology themselves to describe their efforts of evangelism (i.e., recruitment). Although counter-cult literature makes use of the term to identify the tactics of reducing one’s resistance to a manipulative person or group, the term originated from within the vernacular of cults themselves.

For Further Reading until the next post: