Sneaky Issue Of Confirmation Bias

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One struggle we as humans face in society is not uncommon. It is best known as Confirmation Bias. For we are naturally driven by thought and emotion, influenced by our peers, and always searching for answers. The keyword “influenced” is more crucial than what many assume, but science and psychology have proven that sooner or later it is what will become imbedded in our way of thinking, way of interpreting, way of feeling, and our future actions. Politics over the past year has been an ideal example of confirmation bias in the account of its representation from public media to our interpretation of what is being sold to us as a society.

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By definition, Confirmation Bias means “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.” But it seems as though many don’t believe that their existing theories are the main influencers. Basic psychology claims that one's unconscious self is easily influenced by others' opinions for the sake of acceptance or because they themselves do not have a firm foundation on what they believe. It is not uncommon that one's belief of a concept was influenced either by a family member or a dear friend. Interestingly enough, once one has a set belief on a concept, any new events that have any relevance to the concept in which they believe will help confirm their belief or “reaffirm” why they believe it. For example The debate over gun control. Let’s say Kendra is in support of gun control. She seeks out news stories and opinion pieces that reaffirm the need for restrictions on gun ownership and gun laws. When she hears a new story about a shooting in the media, she interprets it in a way that supports her existing beliefs. On the other hand, Mark is strongly opposed to gun control. He seeks out news sources that are in favor of his beliefs. When he comes across the news story about a recent shooting, he interprets them in a way that supports his current point of view.

The main conflict between a person's confirmation bias and politics is that the person might search for what validates their preexisting opinion without looking beyond to other sources of valuable information. The consequences could result in that person's inability to think beyond what they already believe, not capable of feeling empathy for other different world views, and could influence many to be stoic in terms of finding new knowledge in other perspectives. “Empathy cannot coexist with confirmation bias. They are oil and water.” - Shane Phipps. When I was searching through information about confirmation bias, I happened to come across The Washington Post. It gave me a brief explanation of how cognitive bias can affect our way of perceiving information which may lead to irrational behavior and decision making. Under its description, there are two confirmation bias example questions to participate in. The first question is an example of a 31-year-old woman, single, who has majored in philosophy and has had a deep concern with social justice and discrimination. You are then given two choices to answer on what she may be. 1: A bank teller, or 2: A bank teller active in the feminist movement. If you answered number two, you are incorrect. Under the answer section, the news source gives you a description of why your answer is confirmation bias. Though this is an ideal example of confirmation bias, The Washington Post proceeds to use President Donald Trump as an example of this bias under the description. When you continue to the second question, there’s an excerpt of information listing the dates of when the American Civil War took place. Under that, you are asked to answer when Congress held its first session in the Capitol. Under the question it lists the words “You say: 1780” and gives you one choice, to press “OK” under the year 1780. The description then says that you have successfully avoided confirmation bias and below lists an example of our past President Barack Obama. The bias is subtle but not impossible to find. This can be interpreted as confirmation bias in the media because it may venture to say that our current president uses confirmation bias and our last president avoided it.

This particular bias has psychology behind it that states that it is not just media influencing our beliefs but also our surroundings. Location (environment), past experiences, and peers all play a huge role in our belief system and it is more powerful than what you can see on the surface. A more common type of bias can start at a very young age, which starts with following the beliefs from who you grew up with such as parents or siblings. It is common to see a student share their opinions without any evidence behind their theories. When asked, they may refer to their parents as the ones who believe in that certain concept and they may be influenced by their point of view. Though it is possible to grow out of this bias, it was still at one point engraved in our perspective that had influenced our decision-making and way of interpretation. It is probably one of the hardest biases to pull yourself out of especially when coming from an important role model you’ve looked up to and may have based your decisions on during your childhood.

Confirmation Bias is sneaky. It is a very complex concept to identify and impossible to avoid. It has been incorporated in our society for many years and will continue to impact others' way of decision-making and interpreting situations. Though many may not realize it, veiling confirmation bias below the surface of our everyday life will only be a disadvantage to yourself and others around you. It implements the inability to think beyond what our views are already aligned with and damages our empathy when faced with opposing worldviews. It is not only seen in our environment but our media and political campaigns.  

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