This Item Might Reinforce Your Opinion: Obfuscation and Labeling of Search Results to Mitigate Confirmation Bias

Alisa Rieger*, Tim Draws, Mariët Theune, Nava Tintarev

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference article in proceedingAcademicpeer-review


During online information search, users tend to select search results that confirm previous beliefs and ignore competing possibilities. This systematic pattern in human behavior is known as confirmation bias. In this paper, we study the effect of obfuscation (i.e., hiding the result unless the user clicks on it) with warning labels and the effect of task on interaction with attitude-confirming search results. We conducted a preregistered, between-subjects crowdsourced user study (N=328) comparing six groups: three levels of obfuscation (targeted, random, none) and two levels of task (joint, two separate) for four debated topics. We found that both types of obfuscation influence user interactions, and in particular that targeted obfuscation helps decrease interaction with attitude-confirming search results. Future work is needed to understand how much of the observed effect is due to the strong influence of obfuscation, versus the warning label or the task design. We discuss design guidelines concerning system goals such as decreasing consumption of attitude-confirming search results, versus nudging users toward a more analytical mode of information processing. We also discuss implications for future work, such as the effects of interventions for confirmation bias mitigation over repeated exposure. We conclude with a strong word of caution: measures such as obfuscations should only be used for the benefit of the user, e.g., when they explicitly consent to mitigating their own biases.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 32nd ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media: HyperText '21
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4503-8551-0
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event32nd ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media - Online, United States
Duration: 30 Aug 20212 Sept 2021
Conference number: 32


Conference32nd ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media
Abbreviated titleHT '21
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Cognitive Bias Mitigation
  • Confirmation Bias
  • NEED
  • NEWS
  • Nudging
  • Obfuscation
  • Warning Labels
  • Web Search

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