Confirmation bias in foresight: Scanning to find what you already believe

by John Mahaffie on February 23, 2017

Confirmation bias is getting attention in American politics. It is the tendency we have to pre-filter what we see and read according to our established views. Confirmation bias closes our minds to new ideas and other viewpoints. We end up in a protective bubble of our own making.

This is also a trap in foresight. The act of exploring for information and ideas about change is called environmental scanning. (Also called horizon scanning.) It is the work of collecting information, links, observations, etc. to better understand change and explore future possiblities. Confirmation bias afflicts scanning. It leads us to see only things that confirm our beliefs about the future. In fact, even your set of digital or paper filing categories can trick you into missing other changes. 

Confirmation bias file folders

This is a inevitable risk, and you have do two things to overcome it:

1). develop an approach that ensures you encounter new ideas in new categories. Don't just collect things that confirm what you have already decided is true. Read opposing views on purpose. Move towards divergent thoughts instead of away from them.

2). watch yourself and learn to catch yourself at this. Call out your biases when they happen. Carry your awareness of them into situations like when you will meet people with different world views.

Breaking through your own biases is a win. You should delight in discoveries as you read and observe that don't fit your understanding or or your categories. Get excited about finding out you're wrong. If you can't file it, leave it on the desk top. It's got an important insight for you. Pop that bubble. 


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kerstin Cuhls February 24, 2017 at 3:44 am

This is a very important issue that we face as foresighters. We try to work on it by using different methods. But as there are also other biases, it needs a lot of attention and we are far from prepared. In the German national foresights, we tried to overcome it by interviewing very different people and "antennas" – but this is not enough.




Raja Ravi March 2, 2017 at 5:08 am

I always would love to scan for confronting views, incidents, predictions, forecasts or thoughts. However I believethat some times the hedgehogs take lead and foxes are not seen, leading to conform biases. Media tend to highlight the views of hedgehogs more too. Coming to the point of knowing biases, after joining the foresight course (an year back), I think spiritually and have been aiming for not having any biases. However the practice of not having bias towards in day to day life is very very tough. I am trying master it to express my bias to few daily scenarios like family talks. Can a foresight practitioner can be above any biases??!!!

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