Belief bias is a way our minds work where we tend to judge how valid an argument is based on how believable it seems, rather than examining its logic.
It means we often accept arguments that align with our existing beliefs and dismiss those that don’t.
For instance, if you really think that organic food is better, you might quickly dismiss a scientific argument that says there isn’t much nutritional difference between organic and inorganic foods, just because it goes against what you believe.
This belief bias mainly shows up when we’re making decisions based on what makes sense to us rather than what’s logically sound. It’s often seen in situations where we need to evaluate arguments, like in court cases.
One type of cognitive bias that affects our ability to assess the validity of a statement or conclusion is belief bias. It leads us to assess an argument’s validity more on the basis of plausibility than on how it aligns with logic. When it comes to belief bias, our existing knowledge of the world greatly influences how we assess arguments. As a result, even when arguments don’t make sense logically, we frequently accept them as true because they support our preconceptions and seem reasonable to us.
Belief bias is most obvious in syllogistic reasoning, which contains deductive arguments consisting of two premises and a conclusion that logically follows from those premises.
For instance, consider the following example: “All flowers have petals; daffodils have petals; therefore, daffodils are flowers.” Many individuals would accept this argument as valid because it corresponds with their general knowledge that daffodils are indeed flowers.
However, this argument is logically flawed because not all flowers possess petals. Due to belief bias, most people readily endorse the conclusion since it conforms to their existing beliefs, often disregarding the incorrect first premise that states, “all flowers have petals.”
What causes belief bias to occur?
Belief bias arises from the way we reason.
We attempt to follow logic’s rules, but we also have a tendency to base our conclusions and judgments on preexisting ideas.
In our daily lives, there are times when it can be useful to fall back on preexisting information or ideas when presented with unexpected events. However, it might be harmful in situations where the purpose is to evaluate the validity of an argument (for example, in a court of law). Belief bias arises when we depend on our prior knowledge in these situations.
Among the factors that influence it are some of the following:
1. Strongly Held Convictions
When someone feels certain that their opinions, ideas, or feelings are “right,” belief bias is particularly strong. This is frequently the case with topics that evoke strong emotions, such as politics or religion.
2. Ambiguous Arguments
When people are ignorant of a subject, they are more likely to be receptive to arguments that confirm their beliefs. The similar thing occurs when someone makes an argument that we are unable to comprehend. We are more likely to accept a conclusion if it is consistent with our ideas, even if the argument doesn’t make sense to us.
3. Time Constraints
When individuals are required to evaluate arguments within a limited timeframe, belief bias is more likely to manifest. Conversely, having more time for processing tends to result in more logical evaluations. Avoiding belief bias requires generating alternative premises for a conclusion, which can be time intensive.
Example of belief bias
The belief bias effect is observable in a wide range of scenarios and contexts.
Here are three illustrative examples:
Consider a vegetarian who firmly believes that consuming meat is never acceptable, even in a life-threatening situation.
In contrast, another individual might argue that if someone is starving, eating any available food is justified. Both individuals tend to reject each other’s conclusions based on their respective ethical beliefs.
Studying politics provides an ideal environment for examining this error in social psychology and reasoning. Let’s say a candidate loses and then claims their opponent could only have won by fraud, but they are unable to provide proof to support this claim. In the same way, imagine a politician who narrowly wins and goes on governing as though they have a mandate worthy of a landslide election. Either way, these politicians are acting based more on past beliefs than on objective facts.
Technically Valid Syllogism
Even if an argument seems reasonable, it may be false in reality and lead to an absurd conclusion.
Consider the following valid syllogism: “Every chicken lays eggs.” Given that it has laid an egg, this bird must be a chicken. This argument is nonetheless legitimate in a formal sense even though it isn’t entirely sound. Instead of relying just on your preexisting beliefs about the truth or validity of an argument, use your ability for logical reasoning to evaluate both.
Ways to prevent belief bias
Avoiding belief bias can be difficult, just like avoiding other types of bias, since we tend to assess information based on what we already know. You can, however, take the following actions to lessen its impact:
1. Acknowledge your bias
The first step in combating belief bias is understanding it and realizing that everyone has underlying ideas that can influence their judgement.
2. Think about several perspectives
Make an effort to find opposing opinions to your own before making up your mind. You can reduce belief bias and better grasp the complexity of a problem by interacting with different perspectives.
3. Analyze every argument with objectivity
We should evaluate the validity of an argument based on its logic and supporting data, rather than automatically rejecting arguments that conflict with our ideas.
4. Think less quickly
Spend some time thoroughly assessing the information instead of relying on your preconceived notions and gut feelings. Consider whether your reasoning may be influenced by your preexisting beliefs.