Confirmation Bias, in general, is when people believe in what they think is right and do not listen to something that goes against that belief. This does limit our ability to seek out and uncover the truth. We come across confirmation bias in our day-to-day life, we might also have some beliefs that have been taught to us in our upbringing by our teachers or parents on certain things which might be incorrect information. When this information is disrupted by someone, confirmation bias is born.
Bias is unavoidable in any kind of research. When work is presented to users they sometimes give feedback that might be biased to a certain degree through their own set of beliefs. This is important to be understood by researchers because they might be trapped with biases and believe that they have received objective feedback from the user. Hence, they must recognize such bias which affects their research, and position themselves in minimizing its impact on design.
Source: By Tom fonder
Confirmation bias, a phrase coined by English psychologist Peter Wason, is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms or strengthens their beliefs or values and is difficult to dislodge once affirmed. Confirmation bias is an example of a cognitive bias(Wikipedia).
Confirmation bias is a psychological impairment we all face at some level as human beings. Two examples for the better understanding of confirmation bias can be as below:
In China, from the 10th century until the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, it was believed that women who have small feet are said to be most beautiful and practiced foot binding. It was also called lotus feet where they tightly bandaged the feet of young girls to alter their shape and size. The normal feet would be reduced to 3 - 4 inches, anyone who had such feet was not only believed to be beautiful but also said to be able to find a good marriage proposal. They believed that when one walked with a lotus feet looked more elegant than any other.
However, footbinding was a painful practice that limited the mobility of women and resulted in lifelong disabilities. Many opposed this practice during ancient times, but it was not taken into consideration because people listened to those who supported them with this custom and ignored the rest. This practice can be an example of confirmation bias where they ignored the fact that it's wrong and practiced the harmful method.
We all have heard this saying from our younger days that “Become a Doctor when you grow up if not, then an engineer” by our parents, teachers, or be it any adult you come across in this society. A lot of people have prejudices towards the idea that the profession of being a doctor or an engineer is the best. It’s not only that they believe it's a financially stable profession but they also believe that these are the most respected disciplines. When someone tries to interrupt them by going against it, they don’t agree with the thoughts of others who try to disrupt their belief and try to connect with people who are of the same mindset as themselves.
This is something where one must realize that what they have been doing is not entirely correct by understanding the meaning of their beliefs.
How Does it affect UX Research?
“Nick Babich a product designer, in his article on “How to Overcome Cognitive Bias in User Research” has mentioned that Confirmation bias is perhaps the most dangerous bias because it severely affects the approach to UX design. He has said that it prevents UX practitioners from being open-minded and can cause a lot of problems during ideation and brainstorming sessions.
This can be proven to be right by giving an example where a researcher uses specific data received from a study to confirm his hypothesis. When a user study is conducted to test out a UX design pattern that has just been created. The designer is confident enough that this new design will work and everyone will agree accordingly. But when he gets the feedback from the study saying there are many changes needed and the user doesn’t agree to some design pattern that has been created, the researcher tends to ignore any evidence that does not support his theory and disregard users' intentions. He then designs all the patterns based on his hypothesis which can lead to problems in the future.
Framing questions that have to be asked regarding anything to the user is yet another situation where UX researchers tend to be biased. This occurs when the researcher frames the questions to be interviewed in a way that matches the response he has assumed beforehand. This occurs most when a researcher asks a question that is not open-ended. For example in a situation where the researcher is trying to get an opinion from the user on the menu-bar that has been designed. He might pose the user a question such as “ What is that you like about the menu-bar design?”. This is a question that is framed in a way that the researcher has assumed beforehand that the user likes the menu-bar design. As a result, the framing of questions to seek certain answers makes one be biased in his decision.
One must realize that the questions being asked or the feedback that is given by the user plays an important role in designing a product. Hence researchers should avoid being biased by analyzing their assumptions and accepting user views and acting accordingly.
Overcoming Confirmation Bias
The best practice to overcome confirmation bias is by accepting the fact that we could be wrong in some decisions we take. Because being biased towards the data that confirms our beliefs leads to problems in any judgment we take. Simple ways to overcome these can be:
- When a decision is made based on certain assumptions or by listening to someone regarding the topic, it’s a best practice to reach out to many others regarding the topic who might have a different opinion and thoughts. This will help in having a broader view of the topic and coming up with a better decision.
- Agreeing to accept things that seem to be wrong even if it has been taught to us by young age or can’t let go of what you have believed for a very long time.
- In UX research being considerate towards users is the best practice in avoiding bias. Listen to every opinion mentioned by the user, even if it does not go according to your wishes, it is important to go according to the user because the end-product being designed is to be used by the user.
- It’s also a best practice to interview users with different thoughts and views because users of similar views will lead being biased on the same decision.
- While interviewing ask open-ended questions to the user. This will help in reducing the researcher’s bias on certain information.
- Another way can be by collecting quantitative data. This helps in providing the hard evidence if many have the same assumptions or different views regarding the same information.
It is to be remembered that UX design is user-centric design and as a UX designer you have to consider the fact that everything that is being designed is to satisfy the needs of the end-user which is why every decision that is taken should be based on the user point of view.
Confirmation Bias is everywhere not just in the field of design but wherever one believes in things that seem to be true to them and follows that path of belief even though it might not be true. This is something one must analyze and seek out for truth behind that belief before concluding.
As mentioned before confirmation bias can be dangerous, by going through the above-mentioned example certain beliefs that started ages ago continue to years and then centuries regardless of opposition towards that belief even though it’s extremely harmful to oneself. Hence, to avoid such situations it’s better to be open-minded when there is a need to make an important decision. Even if it is hard to accept try looking into the bigger picture where that decision is leading to at the end. As designers, it is to be remembered that the product that is designed will be used by the user at the end.