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Sunday, November 2, 2008

The never-ending quest for Confirming Data

I have been observing for a few years that most human beings are always looking to confirm what they already believe in. It is a vicious circle that rarely breaks. Our beliefs and ideas are a result of our conditioning and the environment we are exposed to and we tend to ignore data (information) against our beliefs and give higher weight to the data that confirms our beliefs i.e. Confirming Data. In this article, I will make a case that majority of the times, the human mind looks for Confirming Data and this quest never stops.

Let's start with childhood. Most children grow up with love from their parents. And, children do things that reassure them that their parent(s) love them. In case, the child believes that only one parent loves him and the other does not, the child then looks to reconfirm that belief by taking action for which he knows the expected reaction from both parents. The child sees reaction of one parent as love and the reaction of the other as not-love. Hence, the child gets Confirming Data for his belief. When the children become teenagers they develop their their own personality and a "position" in school. If the teenage girl believes that she is popular then she sees 500 friends on facebook or myspace as being popular. Furthermore, she takes action to invoke reaction from her peers that will reconfirm to her that she is popular. If a teenage boy thinks that he is cool or he wants to be cool, he smokes with others around him so that people can observe and comment that he is cool. A bully in school continues his behavior as a bully to get Confirming Data that he is powerful and feared.

After high-school, we go to college and/or to work. The girls become more aware of their beauty (these days probably it is happening in high-school) and they spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. The girls like when boys compliment them that they are good-looking i.e. Confirming Data. Doing make-up is also part of getting Confirming Data from the mirror and from others. Girls (like boys) feel good when they get Confirming Data. Having a boyfriend, to a certain level, is also part of getting Confirming Data that a boy finds the girl desirable enough to be a couple at the age of early 20s. On the other hand, boys look for different kinds of Confirming Data. In the US, people can start drinking at the age of 21 and somehow it is considered cool and sign of "manhood" if a guy can drink a lot. So, you see most boys doing a lot of drinking to get reconfirmation that they are real men. The ability to sleep with a lot of girls is also considered cool so you notice a lot of boys try to do that as well.

When we become more mature adults we spend most of our lives at work, in relationships, and attending to our daily routines. The following paragraphs focus on these three aspects of life.

Let's start with looking at corporate America where Confirming Data reaches its prime. Most executives are surrounded by "yes-men" who, most of the times, confirm what the boss believes and say things which the boss wants to hear. In the technology world, the market sizes and market share potentials are unknown so the market research people look for (or create) reports which show the market size to be what executives want it to be. Most of the business case approvals are related to future business/earnings which has uncertainty built-in. A business case is built after a decision has been made to justify the decision. The meetings at work-place go on for hours and hours because many people feel that if they don't speak in meetings they will not be considered smart and since most people at senior management level think that they are smart, they talk and get Confirming Data that they are smart since they contributed to the meeting and made a point (which maybe useless). People become friends with people who share the same views about the company, industry, and the future. Hence, providing confirming data to each other. In the interviews, we form an opinion about the candidate in the first few minutes and then we look to confirm our opinion. I think the Confirming Data was partially responsible for the recent financial crises. The banking executives believed that it was OK to take high-risk with SIVs/other investments and and they looked around and other executives were doing it so they did it as well. You know the results. Also, think about the case for the presence of WMD in Iraq. There was plenty of data available that there are no WMD present in Iraq. However, the Administration chose to only believe in data which confirmed that there are WMD in Iraq.

Confirming Data plays a big role in marriages/romantic relationships. Both parties like hearing that they are loved. Sometimes the conflict arises because men and women, in general, have different communication styles. See http://cdoq.blogspot.com/2008/09/bimodal-communication-styles.html to learn more about communication styles. Women continuously seek Confirming Data that they are attractive and Men continuously seek Confirming Data that they are intelligent. Many people develop dependencies on their partners which are related to consistently getting Confirming Data. In many cases, Confirming Data makes the relationship more sustainable. However, when one partner is no longer in love with another, the other ignores all the signs and only sees the signs which provide Confirming Data that he/she is still loved.

In our day-to-day lives, we subconsciously do many activities that provide us with Confirming Data. We read books which reconfirm our beliefs. We watch TV shows/channels which provide us with idea/believes we like. E.g. conservatives in the US, watch Fox TV channel. When we want to buy a specific car, suddenly that is all we see around us. We make friends who think like we do and have beliefs similar to ours. If you are supporting Obama in the current election, you only listen to Obama most of the time and not to McCain. When you meet new people, you like them more if they share your beliefs and ideas. Women tend to dress in attire that makes them appear younger to get Confirming Data that they are maintaining their youthfulness.


The quest for Confirming Data is in our subconscious i.e. we don't know that we are doing it. I don't know why it happens. However, I have observed over many years that it does happen consistently. When Confirming Data serves as positive feedback loop and encourages you to do something better it is a very good thing. For example, if you get positive feedback from your boss at work, it motivates you to continue doing a good job. On the other hand, when Confirming Data closes your mind to different perspectives and beliefs, it is not a good thing.

We have a choice. We can continue living our lives blissfully ignorant of influence of Confirming Data in our decision making or we can analyze our behavior to understand ourselves better and become open to ideas which contradict with our own ideas. To make good decisions, we should recognize that our subconscious has a never-ending quest for Confirming Data and we can break this vicious circle by consciously taking into account non-Confirming Data. For example, if you are planning to vote for McCain, read a book by Obama before Tuesday.

Your thoughts?