Individual confirmation bias: stalling the Voc. Ed. & Training System

Individual confirmation bias: stalling the Voc. Ed. & Training System


Confirmation bias is very difficult to recognize, but there are five tips you can use to help minimize your cognitive distortion


By Kendra Cherry, Psychology Expert, About Education,

A number of experiments conducted during the 1960s demonstrated that people have a tendency to seek information that confirms their existing beliefs. Unfortunately, this type of bias can prevent us from looking at situations objectively, can influence the decisions we make, and can lead to poor or faulty choices.

Where do your beliefs and opinions come from? If you are like most people, you probably like to believe that your beliefs are the result of years of experience and objective analysis of the information you have available.

The reality is that all of us are susceptible to a tricky problem known as a confirmation bias. While we like to imagine that our beliefs are rational, logical, and objective, the fact is that our ideas are often based on paying attention to the information that upholds our ideas and ignoring the information that challenges our existing beliefs.

What Is a Confirmation Bias?

A confirmation bias is a type of cognitive biasthat involves favoring information that confirms previously existing beliefs or biases. For example, imagine that a person holds a belief that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. Whenever this person encounters a person that is both left-handed and creative, they place greater importance on this “evidence” supporting their already existing belief. This individual might even seek out “proof” that further backs up this belief, while discounting examples that do not support this idea.

Confirmation biases impact how people gather information, but they also influence how people interpret and recall information. For example, people who support or oppose a particular issue will not only seek information that supports their beliefs, they will also interpret news stories in a way that upholds their existing ideas and remember things in a way that also reinforces these attitudes.

Examples of Confirmation Biases in Action

Sally is in support of gun control. She seeks out news stories and opinion pieces that reaffirm the need for limitations on gun ownership. When she hears stories about shootings in the media, she interprets them in a way that supports her existing beliefs. Henry, on the other hand, is adamantly opposed to gun control. He seeks out news sources that are aligned with his position, and when he comes across news stories about shootings, he interprets them in a way that supports his current point of view.

The Impact of Confirmation Biases

A number of experiments conducted during the 1960s demonstrated that people have a tendency to seek information that confirms their existing beliefs. Unfortunately, this type of bias can prevent us from looking at situations objectively, can influence the decisions we make, and can lead to poor or faulty choices.

During an election season, for example, people tend to seek out positive information that paints their favored candidates in a good light while looking for information that casts the opposing candidate in a negative light. By not seeking out objective facts, interpreting information in a way that only supports their existing beliefs, and only remembering details that uphold these beliefs, people often miss important information that might have otherwise influenced their decision on which candidate to support.


  • “Persons believing in extrasensory perception (ESP) will keep close track of instances when they were ‘thinking about Mom, and then the phone rang and it was her!’ Yet they ignore the farm more numerous times when (a) they were thinking about Mom and she didn’t call and (b) they weren’t thinking about Mom and she did call. They also fail to recognize that if they talk to Mom about every two weeks, their frequency of “thinking about Mom” will increase near the end of the two-week-interval, thereby increasing the frequency of a ‘hit.'”
    (Goodwin, 2010)
  • “We also ignore information that disputes our expectations. We are more likely to remember (and repeat) stereotype-consistent information and to forget or ignore stereotype-inconsistent information, which is one way stereotypes are maintained even in the face of disconfirming evidence. If you learn that your new Canadian friend hates hockey and loves sailing, and that your new Mexican friend hates spicy foods and loves rap music, you are less likely to remember this new stereotype-inconsistent information.”
    (Sanderson, 2010)
  • “Groopman (2007) points out that the confirmation bias can couple with the availability bias in producing misdiagnosis in a doctor’s office. A doctor who had jumped to a particular hypothesis as to what disease a patient has may then ask questions and look for evidence that tends to confirm that diagnosis while overlooking evidence that would tend to disconfirm it. Groopman suggests that medical training should include a course in inductive reasoning that would make new doctors aware of such biases. Awareness, he things, would lead to fewer diagnostic errors. A good diagnostician will test his or her initial hypothesis by searching for evidence against that hypothesis.”
    (Gray, 2011)

Five tips to avoid confirmation bias

by Robert Pagliarini,,

The holocaust never happened. The moon landing was staged. And “Sex and the City 2” is a great movie.

How do I know this? I did a Google search.

No matter what your position is, you can find support for it. The lesson? Be careful what you ask, or maybe more appropriately, be careful how you ask. In psychology, the term for this is “confirmation bias,” and it can have damaging consequences for your finances and your life if you’re not careful.

Nobody likes to be wrong, so we’ll actively try to find support for our existing beliefs. We’ll scour the Web to try to find anybody saying anything that remotely resembles our own beliefs. We ask, “Well, how can I be wrong when blogger ‘iheartcarrie’ clearly agrees with me?”

The problem with confirmation bias is that you selectively filter what information you choose to pay attention to and value. So, not only will you actively look for evidence and seek out experts that confirm your existing beliefs, but even more perniciously, you’ll hide from or discredit any information that contradicts your viewpoint. This can cause you to dump money into a failing business, to dump time into a bad relationship or even to stay in a stock too long.

For example, let’s say after watching the stock market go up and up and up over the past year, you decided to jump back in a month ago (woops). Now you’re fully invested and you’ve just seen the market drop 10 percent. If you’re suffering from confirmation bias, instead of rationally evaluating the long-term economic and financial outlook of the U.S. and global economy, you may selectively read just those blogs or columns that are bullish. If you come across an article that is bearish, you’ll dismiss it or maybe not even read it.

Confirmation bias isn’t just a problem for investors. It’s a problem you need to be aware of when looking for a spouse, starting a business, interviewing for a new job, managing people and any other situation where a supply of fresh information can help you make better decisions.

Confirmation bias is very difficult to recognize, but here are five tips you can use to help minimize this cognitive distortion:

Five Tips to Avoid Confirmation Bias

1. Remove your ego.

At its root, confirmation bias is an ego disease. We hate to be wrong, and we’re desperate for others to validate our position. Seek the truth over being right, because if you disregard the truth long enough, you’ll eventually be proven wrong anyway.

2. Seek disagreement.

Foster an environment where it is not only okay to disagree but also encouraged. Asking friends, family and employees, “Am I right?” will likely get only those who agree with you to speak up. A better question is, “Why am I wrong?” At meetings, require everyone to play devil’s advocate. Early on, it might be difficult to get this kind of feedback from others because they’re probably not used to thinking about why you’re wrong (well, at least verbalizing it), so turn it into a game and reward the best answers.

3. Ask better questions.

One of the most worthless questions to ask a friend or co-worker is “How do you think I did?” It’s worthless because you’ll never get any constructive feedback. A much better question is, “What could I have done differently to make it better?” By changing the question ever so slightly, you’ll be shocked at the honest advice you’ll hear.

4. Keep information channels open.

Constantly seek alternative views and opinions in print, on TV and in person. That might mean visiting Web sites, reading newspapers and watching shows that you’ve previously avoided. Remember, seek the truth not evidence that you’re right.

5. Google better.

Don’t search what you want to prove, because with over 3 billion Web pages, you’re bound to find one that agrees with you. Instead, use open-ended searches that aren’t biased.

Keep these five tips in mind, and you’ll avoid confirmation bias.

Case study

Part one – Drop in Voc. Ed. and Training quality

Research shows privatisation of vocational training and training has led to a drop in quality of courses and huge taxpayer-funded profits to private providers. 

The research was conducted by the University of Sydney’s Business School.

The research shows restrictions need to be placed on private providers to ensure that students and governments weren’t ripped off, trust in the vocational training system was maintained, and that TAFEs were preserved.

Privatisation of the training sector has been a failure which has enriched low-quality for-profit providers at the expense of students and taxpayers Ms Forward said.

The research found the average profit made by share market-listed for-profit providers was around 30 per cent, with Australian Careers Network earning a massive 51 per cent annual profit on the back of taxpayer-funded training.

The report found that these profits are coming at the expense of quality delivered to students. There are no limits on what the providers can charge for courses through the FEE-HELP system, and students are being burdened with huge debts.

Private companies are making huge profits from taxpayer subsidies and delivering sub-standard or useless courses to vulnerable students – all of which has undermined trust in the system.

We need immediate action to lift standards: including minimum hours for courses, a ban on contracting out training to unregistered third parties and a crackdown on the way these companies market themselves.

TAFEs cannot compete fairly with unscrupulous companies who claim to be able to teach a year-long course in eight weeks, or which mislead students about the debts they will incur from taking a course”.

Part two – Rise in Voc. Ed. and Training quality

Research that shows privatisation of vocational training and TAFEs has led to promised efficiency, improved quality, fair prices, clear roles and responsibilities, streamlined industry-defined qualifications that is able to respond flexibly to emerging areas of skills need, trade apprenticeships that are appropriately valued and utilised as a career pathway, risk-management approach, supports a competitive and well-functioning market, informs consumers and gives access to the information they need to make choices about providers and training that meets their need, targeted and efficient government funding that considers inconsistencies between jurisdictions or disruption to the fee-for-service market.

*I haven’t/can’t find any.


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