What Is the Function of Confirmation Bias?

Erkenntnis 87 (3):1351-1376 (2022)
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Abstract

Confirmation bias is one of the most widely discussed epistemically problematic cognitions, challenging reliable belief formation and the correction of inaccurate views. Given its problematic nature, it remains unclear why the bias evolved and is still with us today. To offer an explanation, several philosophers and scientists have argued that the bias is in fact adaptive. I critically discuss three recent proposals of this kind before developing a novel alternative, what I call the ‘reality-matching account’. According to the account, confirmation bias evolved because it helps us influence people and social structures so that they come to match our beliefs about them. This can result in significant developmental and epistemic benefits for us and other people, ensuring that over time we don’t become epistemically disconnected from social reality but can navigate it more easily. While that might not be the only evolved function of confirmation bias, it is an important one that has so far been neglected in the theorizing on the bias.

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Uwe Peters
Utrecht University

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