The Misconception: Your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis.
The Truth: Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.
Have you ever had a conversation in which some old movie was mentioned, something like “The Golden Child” or maybe even something more obscure?
You laughed about it, quoted lines from it, wondered what happened to the actors you never saw again, and then you forgot about it. Until…
You are flipping channels one night and all of the sudden you see “The Golden Child” is playing. Weird. The next day you are reading a news story, and out of nowhere it mentions forgotten movies from the 1980s, and holy shit, three paragraphs about “The Golden Child.” You see a trailer that night at the theater for a new Eddie Murphy movie, and then you see a billboard on the street promoting Charlie Murphy doing stand-up in town, and then one of your friends sends you a link to a post at TMZ showing recent photos of the actress from “The Golden Child.”
What is happening here? Is the universe trying to tell you something? No. This is called the frequency illusion.
Since the party and the conversation where you and your friends took turns saying “I-ah-I-ah-I want the kniiiife” you’ve flipped channels plenty of times; you’ve walked past lots of billboards; you’ve seen dozens of stories about celebrities; you’ve been exposed to a handful of movie trailers. The thing is, you disregarded all the other information, all the stuff unrelated to “The Golden Child.” Out of all the chaos, all the morsels of data, you only noticed the bits which called back to something sitting on top of your brain. A few weeks back, when Eddie Murphy and his Tibetan adventure were still submerged beneath a heap of pop-culture at the bottom of your skull, you wouldn’t have paid any special attention to references to it.
If you are thinking about buying a new car, you suddenly see people driving them all over the roads. If you just ended a long-time relationship, every song you hear seems to be written about love. If you are having a baby, you start to see them everywhere. When the frequency illusion goes from a passive phenomenon to an active pursuit, that’s when you start to experience confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is a filter through which you see a reality that matches your expectations. It causes you to think selectively, but the real trouble begins when confirmation bias distorts your active pursuit of facts.