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Cognitive biases - Confirmation bias

This text is the first in a series on cognitive biases.

The concept of "cognitive bias", introduced in the early 1970s, is the result of the research work of psychologists Daniel Kahneman (winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002) and Amos Tversky, who sought to justify the sometimes irrational decisions made in the field of finance.

These two researchers were able to establish that, in a context where an individual must make a judgment quickly and where there is uncertainty and a large amount of information, this individual will unconsciously seek to simplify his mental schemas in order to quickly evaluate the situation and decide. However, this tendency will often have an impact on his reasoning and will distort his appreciation of reality, resulting in irrational decisions.

Cognitive biases are therefore defined as thought mechanisms that distort reality due to an alteration in judgment linked to a dysfunction in reasoning (cognitive distortions). They are false logical, unconscious and systematic reflexes of thought. They are also called "unconscious biases" because they are based on conjectures, beliefs and learned attitudes that populate our subconscious. They are shortcuts, or deviations, that allow us to speed up and simplify the processing of information.

Some biases are explained by limited cognitive resources (e.g., time, information, interest, cognitive abilities). When these are insufficient to perform the analysis necessary to make a rational judgment, cognitive shortcuts, called "heuristics", replace global analytical reasoning by establishing inferences that are acceptable to the individual, which leads to a reduction in complexity. In short, the decision-maker resorts to a simplified cognitive strategy to save time and facilitate his decision making. The shortcuts he takes may, however, prove to be false from a logical-deductive point of view and are therefore likely to generate biases in his mind. The reason for identifying and analyzing these biases is that snap judgments are often the basis for typical misjudgments.

Other biases reflect the intervention of motivational, emotional or moral factors. These may be, for example, the desire to maintain a positive self-image (overconfidence, self-indulgence) or to avoid unpleasant cognitive dissonance (having two incompatible beliefs). In this regard, cognitive biases should not be confused with the latter. In social psychology, the term cognitive dissonance refers to the discomfort or tension felt when several of our beliefs seem incompatible with each other. Cognitive dissonance is a sort of internal struggle, whereas cognitive biases, as we will see in their various expressions, can have an impact on others, particularly in the field of candidate recruitment.

First example of cognitive bias: confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is one of the most common biases. It is defined as the tendency to seek out and use information that confirms our opinions and expectations. In other words, it is the fact of selecting or favouring information that corroborates our previous ideas or hypotheses and that is in line with our pre-existing beliefs or convictions.

In this system of thinking, alternative analyses that may contradict our beliefs will be ignored, discredited or reinterpreted, regardless of their quality or accuracy (proven facts). Opposing opinions will be approached and treated in a very critical way, by tracking down the slightest flaw in the reasoning. On the other hand, even approximate analyses that are in line with our own hypotheses will be systematically considered admissible.

This cognitive bias prevents us from thinking impartially, which can lead us to misinterpret or overlook information that contradicts our point of view. This tendency to pay excessive attention to data that support our preconceived ideas rather than to data that contradict them can be particularly pernicious, especially when our beliefs are built on prejudice (often negative ideas, accepted without prior demonstration). To avoid confirmation bias, it is best to rely on several sources. When testing a hypothesis or doing research, gather information from a variety of sources to form a nuanced viewpoint.

While it's always nice to be reassured of your position, you need to think about the consequences of acting on your judgments. This is especially true in the context of recruitment, where a candidate may be eliminated on the basis of false perceptions or accepted on the basis of data that is subjective to our perception. This is why it is important to standardize your interview questions: stick to the usual interview questions so as to avoid asking irrelevant or too specific questions designed to confirm your opinion of a candidate.

It is important to remember that psychometric tests add objective value to the assessment and evaluation of candidates.

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