#9 confirmation bias

I went with a group of friends to Norway last June and after two days of intensive hiking in the mountains, we had one relaxing day in Stavanger. We were all perhaps too weary from the hikes and consequent of that, none of us did the “research” on Stavanger. All we knew was that Stavanger was a important oil town in Norway and there were 3 large swords in one of the parks. We reckoned we would go to the oil museum (wherever that was) and we would find the 3 large swords sometime in the evening using the GPS. Someone read up a little more about Stavanger and found out that the oldest cathedral in Norway was in Stavanger. She did not find out where it was or how it looked like but we all believed that it was not hard to find an old cathedral in a very small European town.

When we drove through the town in search for free parking, we saw a church painted in red.

Me: Ah, it must be this.

J: Yes, let’s check it out later!

After we have parked the car, we excitedly made our way to what we thought was the oldest church in Norway.

J: Looks like service just ended.

R: Yes, and wow, the Scandinavians really liked to paint their churches in red…(The church in Stockholm was red too.)

We entered the church and we were all surprised by how modern it looked inside.

Me: Seems like they did some renovations not too long ago.

J: Yes but wow, look at the stained glass, they must be as old as the church itself…

We took a few photos inside and happily left the “oldest” church in search for a place to eat.


Looking back, it seems funny how none of us made a connection between the modern interior and the lack of tourists in the church with the possibility that we were at the wrong place. On that night, we read up more about Stavanger and realized that the oldest church did not look anything like the one we visited that morning. My reaction to that was, “Now we know what a typical church in Norway look like.”

As Daniel Kahneman put it, “What you see is all that is.” Humans have confirmation bias and we all interpret things around us to fit our own theories and understanding about how things work. Sometimes things may not happen in the most optimal way but we all have the choice to choose happier thoughts and lead happier lives.



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