Confirmation Bias In Everyday Life

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Bias is a part of everyday life. Specifically, confirmation bias refers to the idea that people tend to look for information that confirms their beliefs and ignore information that refutes their beliefs. To some extent this can be harmless; however, it is important to recognize the impact of confirmation bias about gender and politics. The role of women in American society has drastically changed over the past sixty years, especially politically. Only recently has the “glass ceiling” or inclusion of women in political office, been broken in the United States. While there have been major strides for women politically; it is necessary to consider how confirmation bias may negatively affect or hinder the advancement of a woman’s political career.

A study conducted in 2002 by Kevin J. Flannelly, Voting for Female Candidates: Effects of Voters’ Age, Ethnicity, and Gender within the Journal of Social Psychology examines the possible relationship between voting preferences and gender and ethnicity, hypothesizing;” voting for women may be affected by several demographic variables” and sought to verify such findings through examining them in ongoing elections. Participants were interviewed over the phone three weeks before the elections. The interview consisted of questions concerning age, gender, ethnicity, political party, and candidate preference in two local elections. The experiment included 404 registered voters in Hawaii, ranging in age from 18 to 89 years old. 45.8%of participants were male, whereas 54.2% were female, with an average age of 45. Of the participants, 47.7% were Caucasian, 32.1% were of Asian descent, and 20.2% identified as other ethnicities. Preference was measured using an 0-10 scale, 0 beings; definitely will not vote for the candidate, and 10 beings; definitely will vote for the candidate. The candidates of the first election included a Japanese man running as a Republican, and a Caucasian woman running as a Democrat. The second election candidate included a Japanese running as a Democrat, and a Japanese woman running as a Republican. Findings from the study included; ethnicity had a greater role in female preferences, within the Democratic Party, participants were more likely to vote for female candidates, Caucasian Republicans were more likely to vote for female candidates than non-Caucasian republicans. While these findings do support the hypothesis that many aspects such as sex and ethnicity affect voting, researchers seemingly spread themselves too thin by attempting to address all possible variables. The study would have benefitted from isolating one variable and then being able to make concrete findings that are not as entangled.

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As Flannelly’s study initially found there is certainly bias concerning voting; however, a more in-depth and pragmatic approach to acknowledging gender bias is necessary. Although it may go as unknown amongst students, there is likely a bias towards women in powerful positions; especially politically. Therefore, this experiment seeks to unveil the biases of Mount Saint Mary College students.

The study will consist of a sample of 100 students attending Mount Saint Mary College. Of the 100 participants, 50 participants will be male and the other 50 will be female. The ages of participants will range from 18-22, with an average age of 20. The ethnicities of the participants will represent the population of the Mount Saint Mary College student body, consisting of mostly Caucasian, with smaller representation from minorities such as African Americans and Hispanics.

All participants will take a 50 question survey, given to determine an individual’s political beliefs. Of the 50 questions, only one will directly ask “Do you find that women are sufficiently represented and respected in politics”. This question will be randomly placed within the survey. A prepared campaign speech that is neutral concerning conservative or liberal topics will be used in both the experimental and control groups. For the experimental group, a male and a female research assistant with similar ethnic backgrounds (Caucasian) will serve as the unnamed candidate, both will deliver the prepared campaign speech using similar cadence, in the same location, and wearing similar clothing. The speeches will be filmed and presented to the experimental group. Those in the experimental group will first view the male candidate and directly after viewing, will be given the poll to record their opinion of the candidate. This will be repeated for the female candidate one month later so that participants will not notice the similarity of the speeches. The control group will only receive a written copy of the prepared speech, once they have finished reading the speech they will be given the poll to record their opinion.

Ideally, replication of this study would occur amongst older generations. This would serve as a means to measure the perceived progression of women politically compared to older and likely more conservative generations.

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