Confirmation Bias and the Toilet Seat

I need you to know, this was painful to admit.

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I recently walked into our master bathroom and was IMMEDIATELY annoyed at my husband (poor guy, it doesn’t take much).  The conversation I had with him after went something like this:

“SHAWN. THE TOILET SEAT.”

“Huh? What about it?”  (he knows exactly what I’m talking about).

“Babe, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I come into the bathroom, the toilet seat is left up! It really isn’t that hard to just put the thing down.”

**and here is when my husband had a stroke of genius that sparked this article**

“Dude it’s not fair. You only notice when I leave the toilet seat UP, and you forget about ALL the times I Ieave it down.”

Hmph. I sat and thought about it, and (unfortunately) he had a point. He also reminded me of a very basic, psychological tendency called the confirmation bias.

The confirmation bias is the tendency for humans to search for, interpret, or favor information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs about something or someone. Essentially, people are naturally prone to attempt to confirm their beliefs, rather than look for evidence that contradicts it.

Socially Anxious Susie 

A good example is a person with social anxiety who walks into a crowded restaurant. Let’s call her Susie. Susie has a ton of social anxiety and always thinks that people are judging her in public.

As Susie walks in to the restaurant, a number of people’s eyes are naturally drawn to her. Immediately, Susie thinks that everyone in the restaurant is judging her. (I knew it! Susie says to herself.)  However, there are many other reasons that people’s eyes turned toward her. Maybe they felt a breeze when she opened the door? Maybe they just noticed movement and looked up? Maybe Susie reminds them of their psycho ex-girlfriend?  Of course, none of these options go through Susie’s mind because she has a pre-existing belief that she will be looked at and judged in a social setting. Susie does not look at the situation rationally without bias. If she did, she would realize that only 6 people out of 50 actually looked at her. Those 6 people had more of an impact on Susie than the other 44 because they fit with her pre-existing belief.

Making sense? So how can we use this little tid-bit of info to better our relationships with our spouse, or even a roommate?

That image of the toilet seat up immediately resonated with me, because somewhere in my subconscious, I was expecting it.

Once I saw it, the alarms went off and I was mad, instantly. So, the next time you realize they (partner, room-mate, co-worker) did something, AGAIN, that bothers you or fits your own little hypothesis, take a second and try and find any evidence that doesn’t fit with it.

When I saw the toilet seat up, I should have paused and reflected. Then, I would have realized that I have walked into the bathroom at least 20-30 times and he hasn’t left the seat up. The secret here is to pause and reflect, most of us act emotionally rather than logically. Pausing is a great way to check yourself and make sure you aren’t falling victim to the confirmation bias.

 

Author’s note: This will be the only post you will see where my husband is right. 

 

4 comments on “Confirmation Bias and the Toilet Seat”

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