Graeme Newell

Belief Bias

Neuroscience tells us that our brain has one overarching goal: to do the most thinking while expending the least possible energy. Our brain likes to form a conclusion and then put it to bed. Its fondest hope is it’ll never need to expend energy on that conclusion again.

It’s our brain’s inherent laziness that fuels belief bias. Our brain groans when it considers the work required to re-evaluate a belief. So our crafty mind desperately searches for any blemish in the new argument. If it can find just a single point of doubt, it can summarily reject the whole argument. It’ll look for any excuse.

And the opposite is also true. When we find an argument that confirms our current belief, we tend to stop evaluating the validity of the logic and give it our approval. For example, evaluate the logic of this statement:

  All birds can fly. Robins can fly, therefore robins are birds.

Because the conclusion agrees with our preconceived belief, a lot of people assume the logic is also correct. But the logic here is actually flawed. Robins being able to fly doesn’t necessarily mean that robins are birds. For example:

   All birds can fly. Moths can fly, therefore moths are birds.

It’s important to realize that when we’re presented with an idea that confirms our current belief, our brain’s default action will be to skip over evaluating the validity of that argument and go directly to rubber-stamping our approval.

So anytime we’re presented with a paradigm-shifting argument, we should pause for a moment and acknowledge that our brain is now desperately looking for a shortcut so it can avoid the hard work of evaluating the new argument. Its fondest hope is that it can skip all this arduous thinking and go straight to the conclusion. It’s hoping to find confirmation of a currently held belief.

This is why it’s vitally important that we resist the temptation to go directly to the conclusion, then work backwards to evaluate the reasoning. Instead, put the conclusion ON HOLD, then begin methodically working through the actual validity of the rationale. You’ll make smarter choices if you countermand your brain’s powerful preference to skip the hard work of an objective evaluation.