What Is the Function of Confirmation Bias?

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

Citations of this work

Evolving resolve.Walter Veit & David Spurrett - 2021 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 44.
Science Communication and the Problematic Impact of Descriptive Norms.Uwe Peters - 2023 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 74 (3):713-738.
Culture and Cognitive Science.Andreas De Block & Daniel Kelly - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Linguistic Discrimination in Science: Can English Disfluency Help Debias Scientific Research?Uwe Peters - 2023 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 36 (1):61-79.

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