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Confirmation Bias and the Relationship to Athletic Performance, Politics and World View

Confirmation Bias and Performance

Confirmation bias is most simply defined as the idea that we have a tendency to focus on, notice and give greater acceptance to evidence, news and research that fits our existing beliefs about ourselves, our world view and the broader society.

I remember being asked a question back in Middle School about whether we lived in a bad world where good things happen occasionally or a good world where bad things happen occasionally. And to be completely honest there are periods of time in my life I've switched my view point on this. While I could probably write a dissertation on this interesting philosophical question, that's not why we are here.

If you fall into the first category, a bad world, then you may fail to see the good things that happen and instead only see the doom and gloom. Whereas if you fall in the second category you may write off the bad things as blips in the world. But whichever side you hold true, it will affect the perception you have of certain events and our brain will focus in on what fits the narrative of our assumption.

Confirmation Boas

The same goes politically, if you are a hardcore Democrat or Republican, you may write off the negative news about a politician you like and only focus in on the good, missing the bad policy someone supported because they have the right R or D next to their name.

This is what we call confirmation bias, and there is no escaping it, we do it subconsciously. This could be a good thing but it can also be a negative thing, and either way it is connected to the mindset that we have.

If we have a growth mindset, whereas we believe that our talents, gifts and intelligence is shaped by our hard work then we may face obstacles in a way that encourages change and see success as a positive result of such work. Moreover if you hold the view that talent and intelligence is innate and unchangeable, success is linked to one's ego and failure is blamed on outside factors. It can also lead you to the believe that maybe you aren't good enough because you weren't born with elite genetics.

Another term used to describe this phenomenon is Locus of Control or the perception one has of how much control one has over his/her life. An Internal Locus of Control favors the thinking that the outcome is directly related to their hard work, effort, ability and decision making. An External Locus of Control lends to the thinking that outside, uncontrollable factors are to blame for a terrible outcome such as the weather, luck, referees, injuries, etc.

All of this information can be used to direct our mindset in a way that uses this subconscious confirmation bias to our advantage as athletes, employees, etc. If we embrace an Internal Locus of Control and Growth Mindset we can analyze our positive outcomes to give credence to the effort we put in and evaluate our short-comings in a way that is productive.

We must remember that correlation does not imply causation. The things I have heard my athletes say fits these ideas perfectly.

"Well last time I didn't warmup I swam a best time, so I don't think I'm going to warmup."

"Last time I warmed up, I swam bad so it must be that I don't do well when I warmup."

"When I tried the correction, I went slower so I think I am just going to go back to my old technique."

"I never eat during a long meet because last time I did I didn't feel well."

The list goes on and on.....

When we don't look at things from an analytical stance and work only off emotions and feelings, we can blame the wrong thing for our success or failure. This is not a productive mode of living. Maybe at work, you have caught yourself in the same mindset.

"The meeting went really smooth last time and I didn't prepare for it, so there is no need to prepare this week!"

We can also do the same thing in our walk with Christ, are we willing to trust God to provide or are we dead set on trudging the path of providing on our own accord. When things go bad, are we going to blame God for the outcome, even though we didn't truly listen to God's path for our lives. On the flip side when things go well, do we take all the credit and say I didn't need you God I did this all on my own!

While confirmation bias can be a negative thing, coaches, parents and educators can utilize this to the advantage of the youth they work with. Instilling a memory of the things that went well or helping a child overcome fear. You may have caught yourself saying something like this.

"I know that rollercoaster looks scary, but remember last year when you went on it how much fund you had!"

I try to remind my athletes of past performances and practices where maybe they accomplished a feat that at the present moment seems to hard to achieve. The body is far more capable and many will never push their bodies far enough to surpass it's capabilities. The only limiting factor is what is between our two ears.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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