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What is Belief Bias? (5 Ways to Improve Your Decision-Making)


Hands up if you think your logic and reasoning skills are devoid of bias. Most of us are prone to allowing our experience, knowledge, and belief system to influence our logic and reasoning. This is partially caused by the belief bias, and it can harm our decision-making

The belief bias makes us more likely to accept something if it already aligns with our beliefs. So how do we prevent this? How can we tell when we should try to tackle a problem without being influenced by our prior beliefs.

This article will discuss what the belief bias is and how it impacts us in our daily lives. We will also suggest 5 ways to help you deal with the belief bias.

What is the belief bias?

In short, the belief bias is a cognitive bias where we decide what is believable based on our knowledge, past experiences, and beliefs, rather than logic.

Therefore, we often conclude an argument through previous knowledge rather than the validity of the discussion itself. 

This dictionary definition describes the belief bias as:

The tendency to be influenced by one’s knowledge about the world in evaluating conclusions and to accept them as true because they are believable rather than because they are logically valid.

What are examples of belief bias?

The belief bias affects our ability to utilize logic and engage our critical thinking brains. 

The belief bias is often associated with syllogistic reasoning. This type of reasoning takes the culmination of two generic statements to come up with a conclusion or fact that doesn’t always add up. 

We can find a common example of this bias in these three statements: 

  1. All birds can fly
  2. Pigeons can fly.
  3. Therefore pigeons are birds.

We know pigeons are birds from experience. However, what about ostriches and penguins? Does the fact that they can’t fly mean that they are not birds? Butterflies aren’t birds, but they can fly!

Therefore this logical reasoning process is flawed, and belief bias has favored our knowledge over logic. 

Let’s use a current hugely polarized issue as another example. 

Some countries and many states in America are deeply affected by their religious beliefs. This knowledge and belief lead them to hold the belief bias that abortion is wrong. No exceptions. 

They believe this position to be “pro-life .” However, we know that when governments place restrictions on abortion rights, the mortality of women increases significantly! To put this into context, 68,000 women die annually of unsafe abortions. 

Many states withhold life-saving miscarriage care from women in desperate need. The reason for this is that the process is similar to abortion. So the belief that all abortion is wrong serves to endanger women. It is severely illogical, flawed, and based solely on a belief bias. 

Studies on belief bias

This study set out to examine if a participant's beliefs about the empirical truth of a conclusion impacts their productivity and evaluation of a logical conclusion. 

The participants were issued a reasoning task at random. There were four reasoning tasks in total. Two used a production paradigm, and the other two used an evaluation paradigm. 

The paradigms themselves contained either neutral problems or belief-oriented problems. The authors kept the problems as similar as possible. 

The results found a significant belief bias in both the production and evaluation tasks. Moreover, what is particularly interesting is that this belief bias showed up regardless of the participants’ abstract reasoning ability - which the authors also tested them on. 

How does the belief bias affect your mental health?

The belief bias can affect anyone. Some factors may influence how it manifests in individuals, including: 

  • Age.
  • Religious beliefs. 
  • Working memory. 
  • General cognitive ability. 

Emotive topics may also affect the belief bias, as will arguments that are difficult to understand. 

When researching this article, I didn’t expect to learn that older adults are more susceptible to belief bias than younger adults

One explanation is that younger adults don’t have as much previous knowledge to inhibit when conducting logical reasoning tasks.

Many older adults wedge themselves into their ways and become a bit stuck. They then stop opening themselves up to life’s adventures and uncertainties. The older adults in my life are relatively inflexible in their ways and thinking. 

According to this article, the belief bias also renders older adults more susceptible to fake news. And fake news can cause all sorts of emotional anxiety and negative well-being. 

We are not using our logical reasoning skills when we are affected by belief bias. We are simply going along with what we think we already know without ensuring our knowledge fits the hypothesis at hand. 

Not only does this limit our growth, but it stunts our self-awareness and perception. 

5 tips for dealing with the belief bias

It’s tough to prevent our beliefs and previous knowledge from playing a part in our logical reasoning. It requires us to come at things with a clear mind and try to shake off all preconceptions. 

Here are 5 tips on how you can deal with the belief bias. 

1. Believe nothing and question everything

Is your belief even true? 

It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Nobody likes to challenge their beliefs, nor do they want to be wrong. But surely it is better to build your thoughts on a factual basis rather than to allow some form of embellished belief to guide your logic? 

As we used to say in my days as a detective: believe nothing and question everything.  

This questioning helps us release our grip on specific ideas and beliefs. We learn to loosen our rigidity and adopt a more curious and flexible outlook. We become more open and unbiased. 

2. Develop your empathy

When we develop empathy, we learn to see things from another perspective

People with high levels of empathy can connect and understand others on a deep level. It is not about agreeing with another but recognizing the human feelings and emotions another may be enduring. 

A strength of empathetic people is that they seek points of commonality instead of using the difference in beliefs as a wedge. 

When we are open to another person's feelings and emotions, we become aware of our own emotions and triggers. This awareness helps us recognize our biases. 

Here's an article that explains how to be more empathetic (with examples).

3. Adopt a blank canvas mind

Imagine you could approach all problems, arguments, and critical thinking tasks with a blank canvas mind. No preconceptions, no taints of past experience. 

We can’t eradicate what we already know, but we can try our best to quiet our minds. There are numerous ways to help clear the mind and facilitate fresh thinking:

  • Rhythmic breathing exercise. 
  • Meditation and yoga. 
  • Aerobic exercise. 
  • Time in nature
  • Decent sleep. 

Our brains think they are helping us by bringing our beliefs and past experiences to the fore. While it does make it easier for us to make a decision, it doesn't always help us make the right decision.

More often than not, these past experiences only serve to introduce bias into our world. Learn to say "thank, but no thanks" to your brain and consciously reject its suggestions. 

4. Escape your echo chamber 

Oh, the good old echo chamber. A place of comfort and safety. But also a place where our growth and potential go to die. 

Please, for your happiness, escape that echo chamber. 

Being surrounded by people with the same opinions and beliefs only reinforces a closed mind. It keeps you inside your bubble of comfort

While you don’t need to change your opinions and views, you should at least be open to the idea that there are other opinions and thoughts. Explore the science and reasoning behind other options. 

I dare you to flirt with the idea that your way is not the highway. 

5. Argue with yourself 

Each time you participate in a debate, question whether your arguments are based on logic or beliefs. Sometimes, topics can be passionate and we respond emotionally. This response is perfectly normal. But it can also hinder us.

Learn to question yourself by challenging your arguments. Are you genuinely building your arguments on reason and logic, or are you relying on your beliefs and experience? 

  • What is the basis of your argument? 
  • Would an objective person see the logic behind our argument? 
  • Is your view delivered through a rose-tinted lens?  

It’s never too late to question yourself and challenge your logic.

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Wrapping up

The belief bias causes us to simply follow what we think we already know without ensuring our knowledge is factual. This limits our growth and stunts our self-awareness and perception. In this article, we have learned that just because something is believable doesn’t always mean it is logical.

When did you last fall victim to the belief bias? How did this impact your decision-making? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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Ali Hall

Writer

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.

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