Confirmation bias and witch trials

We look to reality to confirm our beliefs. It is automatic, you cannot control it. We navigate the world looking for patterns that match our expectations and beliefs. Worse: We treat the disconfirming information in a way similar to how witches were “judged” during the incredible witch-craze that took place a few centuries ago (and represents one of several stains in mankind’s history.) Women accused of being witches often were subjected to what was known as the “cold water test”: they were thrown into a lake, for instance. If they floated, this was the “proof” they were witches and death by burning or hanging was their destiny. If somehow they did not float, they were considered innocent, but often they drowned and died anyway*. So a similar process occurs when we face some information that we don’t like or that disconfirms our mental models: We make sure (automatically) it will face a biased evaluation that eventually will kill it. There is plenty of scientific evidence showing this process in action. This is one of the human paradoxes we have to live with.

* Trevor-Roper, H. R. (1968). The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and Other Essays.