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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias: is it there, or not?

1. When I rode toward Phoenix, Arizona for the first time, coming in from the Superstition Mountain area of the desert, my friend who was driving whooped with surprise and awe, "Wow! That's a mirage, see that big blue city shimmering up above the horizon? Well, it isn't there, Phoenix isn't that tall, it isn't that big, and we are still too far out in the desert to see it. And where are the White Tank Mountains? There's just clear sky where the mountains should be behind the city. That right there is a mirage. The dust of the desert reflected Phoenix up into the sky to welcome you! Whoopee!" I saw it, the mirage of a shimmering city rising thousands of feet in the air, beautifully glowing up from its base in the dust of the desert; but never having experienced a mirage before I just couldn't believe it. I had always thought that mirages were constructs of fanciful, and perhaps weak minds. So I denied it, "No, no. I don't see anything, just desert and cactus." But I had seen it. I just couldn't acknowledge the mirage. How strange.

2. My best friend visited me there and I drove him around, showing him Phoenix and the desert that encircled it. Phoenix is build so that many city properties open up to the surrounding desert with views and footpaths that can give access into the wildness of the desert at a moment's notice. As I drove along a side street where desert and city blended together, I suddenly veered off the road because a huge black wolf crossed in front of me. I stopped along the road and stared. The wolf stopped on the other side of the road, and it stood steadily gazing into the car for a few moments. My friend and I sat still with surprise. I wanted to yell but I whispered urgently, "That's a wolf, my friend, right there in front of the car, a wolf! Do you see it? That big, black wolf is looking at you, it has stopped to welcome you. Do you see it, my friend?" Could it have been a coyote? No, coyotes are shy, small, and reddish or grayish brown; this animal was dusty black with a magnificent wolf head that could have easily reached the hood of the car. I myself thought that it was an apparition until I saw it gracefully swing away, slipping silently into the shadows of the desert. Only a smart, powerful animal moves that way. I had frantically tried to get my friend to see, but he had only glanced once at the wolf, then would not look up to see any more of it. He gazed steadily onto his hands which were folded quietly in his lap. This man was a certified Mensa member, a genius who enjoyed a full and varied life, but he could not acknowledge such as departure from his reality as a wolf in the road.

It all boils down to confirmation bias, “People have a tendency to interpret new information in a way that supports their pre-existing beliefs, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias..." I saw no mirage and my friend saw no wolf.

See also: Science Daily,

We cannot see what we cannot conceptualize.

still image and animation by Annmarie Throckmorton 2022

Phoenix, Arizona and White Tank Mountains-royalty-free image 2022

black wolf-royalty free image 2022

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