How To Outsmart The Confirmation Bias? A Health Psychology And Cognitive Psychology Podcast Episode.
Out of all the thinking biases we learn about from cognitive psychology, it is the confirmation bias that could be a massive threat to us. The confirmation bias influences people to accept information that confirms their beliefs and attitudes whilst getting them to dislike and avoid any opposing information. Not only does this lead to the formation of echo chambers, health and social misinformation and a lot of other negative side effects for a person, but this can have a lot of negative outcomes for society as a whole. Therefore, in this cognitive psychology podcast episode, you’ll learn about how to outsmart confirmation bias. If you enjoy cognitive psychology, social psychology and learning about thinking then you’ll love today’s episode.
This psychology podcast episode has been sponsored by Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
How Does Confirmation Bias Impact Our Health Choices?
One important area that the confirmation bias impacts is certainly our health behaviours. Since if a person loves cooking with lard and they love to put lard on their breakfast, lunch and dinner then this person will start to develop a confirmation bias that makes them oppose to any information about the negative health impacts of always cooking with lard. Since they want to maintain their beliefs and their positive attitudes towards cooking with lard.
For example, if this person who loved cooking with lard was told to eat more vegetables. Then this person would probably disregard this information because they might believe that they don’t like the taste of vegetables and vegetables are a pain to cook, compared to lard. And the person would check in with themselves and ask the simple question of besides themselves, who are they actually hurting by not eating more vegetables?
Resulting in their beliefs about cooking with lard is good and eating more vegetables is bad, perfectly intact.
In addition, one aspect of the confirmation bias, we mustn’t overlook is the fact that humans actually don’t like too many choices. Since psychology research (references below) consistently shows that people would rather have five choices compared to 20 or even 30 choices.
This research finding is important to bear in mind because this plays a role in our habit forming behaviour. We all know this from standing in a line at Costa, the supermarket or whenever we go into a restaurant. Looking at new options and deciding what to have is a nightmare because it takes energy and time. That’s why people tend to have similar meals at certain places because they know it’s good and it means they can focus their time and energy on other things.
That’s one of the main reasons why teaching people healthy behaviours can be such a bumpy road and nightmare, because that requires people to think and use up precious energy and time.
One of my favourite quotes, I ever read in a psychology textbook was “people are cognitive misers”. In other words, people hate using any more cognitive effort or energy than they have to.
Therefore, this leads to research showing us that a lot of people aren’t great at following healthy eating advice unless they already have a broad underlying value of maintaining their health throughout their life. Or perhaps have a health scare.
And I think I am sort of proof of this, because as much as I hate to admit it, as a child I was obese. And I honestly didn’t care about my weight unless I was at 16 or 17 because I had just had enough of being fat. I didn’t want to diet or exercise or do anything dramatic to lose weight before then because it just wasn’t who I am. In other words, it wasn’t until I was about 17 that I did have a value of being healthy and making sure that my health was protected throughout my lifespan.
How Health Literacy Impacts Confirmation Bias?
Another factor that impacts confirmation bias for health behaviour is health literacy. This is someone’s ability to understand basic health facts, make appropriate decisions about their health and access health services. For example, this can include a person’s ability to set up a regular doctor’s visit, ask good health questions, relay the right information and follow recommendations.
A personal example would be a few months ago when I went to the optometrist for my glasses and I asked the man “How should I protect my eye health?”. I really want to protect my eyes as much as I can because I never ever want to go blind nor do I ever want to see reading glasses for my Kobo. That is one of my biggest fears. Therefore, he told me about protecting my eyes from UV light because that’s a massive factor. Since UV light causes tons of eye damage.
That’s why I wear my sunglasses a lot more this year than previous years even when I wouldn’t say I typically need them. For example, when the sun’s out but I’m not facing it or there’s little risk of doing that.
Anyway, my point is that make you ask questions, follow recommendations and protect your health.
Furthermore, one research finding I will always support is that health literacy is tied to a person’s education level, but a person having a defined and strong belief about their health is important too. This I can see in my family and local area because the members of my family that are educated have very good habit habits and those members of the family and local community that only did their GCSEs, you can tell from talking to them that they don’t really care about their health. My grandparents are brilliant examples of this too.
One research study looked at this by looking at belief in the effectiveness of childhood vaccinations. The people with higher health literacy were more likely to stick to their beliefs, because the researchers thought they were more familiar with the topic and they had thought about it a lot of times.
And whilst I won’t mention some of these topics. If you talk to me about certain topics in the political and psychology sphere, then I will definitely stick to my guns because I have thought about them a lot and I’m very familiar with the topics. Therefore, health literacy or any sort of positive literacy can be really helpful in forming positive habits.
In addition, when it comes to magnetoencephalography studies used to investigate confirmation bias. The study found clear that the brain lights up when confirming evidence is presented and any evidence not confirming the belief wasn’t processed at all.
Therefore, this isn’t just a social or cognitive psychology question because it is neuropsychology too. Since it is our beliefs and attitudes about topics that impact and shape our neural networks that reinforce our beliefs.
How To Outsmart The Confirmation Bias?
Whilst the rest of the podcast episode beforehand was more of a setup for this section, I think it is flat out critical for us to understand how confirmation bias impacts our health behaviours. Therefore, now that we understand how the confirmation bias inhibits our healthy habits from being formed, we need to see how can we get around this problem.
One of the best ways to counteract the confirmation bias is through what’s known as a “stealth intervention”. As a result of the idea behind this is to make the process of turning an unhealthy habit into a healthier habit, more fun, more rewarding as well as more desirable.
Not surprising but stealth interventions don’t make use of reasoning, logic or advice because we know from social psychology research that it doesn’t work. Like I mentioned in my Social Psychology book if an opinion is based on emotion then it will only be changed by emotion.
Instead a stealth intervention uses an environment that is set up to make the healthy habit more satisfying and fun.
For example, one study offered college students a course called “Food and Society: Exploring Eating Behaviours in a Social, Environmental and Policy Context”. And I can say that from doing this in IB geography in 6th form, this is actually a very interesting topic. Anyway, the purpose of the course wasn’t to get the college students to focus on their own habits, but more general and global food issues. Yet the students reported an increase in their vegetable consumption and a decrease in their high-fat dairy intake. So whilst this wasn’t a course that focused on their eating habits, it did help to massive changes in some health behaviours.
Health Psychology Conclusion
I’ll never lie to you wonderful listeners but it is so rare that we cover a health topic on the podcast, because health psychology isn’t really an area I care too much about. But after writing up this post, I have to say that health psychology is an important area and it can be fun too.
Therefore, I’ll never say that I’m shocked that health behaviours are hard to sell to people because people already have their beliefs about health. And it is these beliefs that get in the way of forming healthier ones. No one is immune to this, I know I’m not.
Also, we now know that confirmation bias can be a powerful force in determining our motivation towards making healthier choices, so the answer about how to outsmart confirmation bias is not easy. Yet we do know a lot about possible interventions from research.
The real key to countering the confirmation bias is to broaden our health approaches and our interventions so we can focus on making them more rewarding, pleasurable and increasing people’s sense of curiosity. Because once you increase those three factors then people get a lot more interested and a lot more magical, interesting and beneficial things can happen to people. Hopefully helping them to improve their health so it lasts a lifetime.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s social psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Health and Cognitive Psychology References
Dickinson, D.L. and Kakoschke, N. (2021). Seeking confirmation? Biased information search and deliberation in the food domain. Science Direct. Food Quality and Preference. Vol. 91.
Haidt, J. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage Books, New York.
Hekler, E.B., Gardner, C.D., Robinson, T.N. (2010). Effects of a College Course About Food and Society on Students’ Eating Behaviors. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 38: (5), 543-547.
Meppelink, C. S., Smit, E. G., Fransen, M. L., & Diviani, N. (2019). “I was right about vaccination”: Confirmation bias and health literacy in online health information seeking. Journal of health communication, 24(2), 129-140.
Peters, U. (2022). What is the function of confirmation bias?. Erkenntnis, 87(3), 1351-1376.
Rollwage, M., Loosen, A., Hauser, T.U., Moran, R., Dolan, R, Fleming, S.M. (2020). Confidence drives a neural confirmation bias. Nature Communications. 11:2634.
Zhao, H., Fu, S., & Chen, X. (2020). Promoting users’ intention to share online health articles on social media: The role of confirmation bias. Information Processing & Management, 57(6), 102354.
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