How Non-Fiction Books Inflate Our Confirmation Bias

Image for post
Image for post

We non-fiction lovers are a rare breed. I’m glad Medium has given me a place to discuss my love of non-fiction because everywhere else I feel out of place because most of the people I come across seem to mainly read fiction. There’s nothing wrong with fiction, but you fellow non-fiction fanatics make me feel less alone, so I appreciate you.

When picking my next book, I try to be extremely deliberate with the books I read. I’m very intentional with the books I choose because I don’t know about you, but I really value my time. As a father, a boyfriend, a gamer and a full-time employee, I only have so much time to read, so I want to make sure it’s worth my time.

We live in a hectic world where our attention is being pulled in a million directions, so we have a finite time to read. So, with our precious, minimal amount of reading time, why on earth would we spend it reading books that do nothing but confirm what we actually believe?

If you read my last post 4 Books Every Liberal Should Read Before the 2020 Elections and my other post 7 Books That Will Make You Rethink Mental Health, you’re getting the feel of the topics that interest me. Aside from psychology, mental health and self-development, I’m fascinated with social subjects because it helps me understand this crazy world that we live in, but when I walk through the book store, browse GoodReads or my recommendations on Audible, there are so many books that seem to serve no purpose except to keep us in an echo chamber.

Why do We Read Non-Fiction?

A few years ago, as part of a company retreat, we did a “strengths finder” test, and my biggest strength was that I was a learner. I’m someone who loves to learn, which is accurate, but it also surprised me. For most of my life, I was the most close-minded person you could meet and thought I knew everything. Thankfully, my sobriety taught me that I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am, and that’s driven my passion for learning.

Although I’m just now realizing how many other people love non-fiction, I assume that you and I are in the same boat. We love reading non-fiction because it provides us with a wealth of knowledge that we didn’t previously have. Many of us have topics that we’re interested in, and luckily, there are amazing authors out there who take those topics and take a deep dive into them. They do the research for us and kindly put it together for us to enjoy.

Going back to reading with a purpose, why would any of us want to take the time to read a book filled with information we already know?

Well, as someone who is fascinated with psychology, behavioral economics and neuroscience, I know the answer, but a lot of us don’t want to recognize what’s going on. We love people who agree with our opinions. When people confirm what we believe, it actually activates the reward center of the brain. When people challenge our beliefs, it triggers the same part of our brain that reacts to physical pain.

The Handicap of Confirmation Bias

I first started thinking about this when I was browsing through Twitter and saw a journalist I enjoy share a thread she created of all the books she was reading throughout 2019. She’s a great journalist, and I’m always looking for good book recommendations (by the way, big thank you to all my new followers sending me book suggestions). So, I started looking up the books she’d been reading throughout the year to see what they were about, and I was blown away.

All of them were just books confirming her opinions.

The next time I really thought about this was when I was at my local Barnes and Noble here in Las Vegas, and I checked out the Social Sciences section. Since I loved the books by Jonathon Haidt and some others, I figured there’d be some great new books for me to check out, and boy was I wrong.

They say to never judge a book by its cover, but you can learn a lot from the title, subtitle and information on the back. Most of the books I came across are a great example of the divided times we live in because they’re entire books on hard stances, and you can find them from both sides. For example, The Madness of Crowds and White Fragility. Then you have books by political commentators like Candace Owen’s book Blackout, and trust me, there are plenty of liberals who write books like these as well.

Good books are good books, and I’m not saying they’re bad, but I want you to ask yourself, “What’s the purpose of these books?”

If you can’t answer that yet, a better example might be the political section because as you read in my last post, I’m a liberal who is no fan of Trump, but most of the books in the political section serve me no purpose.

I could close my eyes and pull a book off the shelf from the political section, and there’s an extremely high chance that I’ll be holding an anti-Trump book. Each one discussing all of the lies of President Trump or how terrible he is for our country, and one is even from a “cult expert” titled The Cult of Trump.

Again, my question is, what’s the purpose of these books?

I’m also an atheist, but I’m not one of those hardcore ones. My philosophy is that you should be able to believe in whatever you want as long as it doesn’t impede on anyone’s rights or hurt anyone. If your faith helps guide you through life and gives you a community, do your thang.

Recently, Audible has been recommending a book to me every time I load the page, and it’s called The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is UN-AMERICAN. You can take a guess as to what this book’s about.

And I’ll ask you one last time, what’s the purpose of books like these?

Image for post
Image for post

Who These Books are For

I’ve built a decent online presence, and aside from my background in mental health, I also have a background in sales and marketing. I love the psychology behind marketing. Not only does it help me with growing my online brand, but you can reverse engineer what you learn so you don’t fall for marketing tricks.

When asking ourselves, “What’s the purpose of these books?”, one of the primary purposes is social currency. Jonah Berger is a professor of psychology and studies what makes ideas spread, and he’s one of my favorite authors. In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he discusses the importance of social currency.

We absolutely love social currency. This currency is what we use to show people how cool or intelligent we are. We’re all like that annoying guy at the party who just spits out a bunch of useless facts. We do the same thing, and that’s one of the reasons some of us choose to read these books that offer us no new point of view.

By reading these books, we stockpile social currency, so while we’re in the midst of our echo chamber surrounded by people who have the same views as us, we sound a bit smarter. We get to discuss the books we read by the authors who also agree with us.

The saddest part about this is the only other purpose this serves is to use this information as ammunition against the other side.

Two of the best books I’ve read on argument and debate both discourage the idea of “winning”. Whenever we debate the other side, we often make the mistake of trying to prove how smart we are and how stupid they are, or we try to prove why our morals and values are right and theirs are wrong.

Let me ask you this, when as the last time that actually worked for you?

If you’ve ever been in an argument in your life, you probably have learned the hard lesson that I had to learn as well, which is that facts don’t really matter all that much to the opposition. Why? Because we cling to our beliefs with a kung-fu grip. Studies have even shown that when you argue against someone’s beliefs, often makes the person hold that belief even stronger than before.

So What’s the Solution?

If you want to make more use of your valuable time while reading books, here are a few solutions.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @TheRewiredSoul. For more mental health blogs, check out www.TheRewiredSoul.com or grab one of my books on anxiety, depression or sobriety here.

Written by

Psychology/mental health/philosophy. Stay up to date by following me here & on Twitter/Instagram @TheRewiredSoul. Books available at www.TheRewiredSoul.com/shop

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store