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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

Pardon me, but your bias is showing

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Lynette Sowell

My front porch


The more I see the news, whether it’s real, #fakenews, #alternativenews, the more I believe that most of us really don’t want new information at all.

I think most of us are full of it. Bias, that is, and it’s called confirmation bias.

We’ve already made up our minds on an issue and we home in on whatever supports our opinions, whether we be right or wrong. We look for what backs us up, because we can’t be wrong. Can we?

We don’t want to listen to anyone who challenges an opinion we already have.

One example of confirmation bias is dealing with teenagers. There’s an age when some teenagers think their parents’ advice is lame at best, or stupid beyond belief, at worst.

Anyone who has parented a teen knows you can suggest a great idea, but because it comes from you, they ignore it. However, if their best friend or another adult of whom they are a fan comes out with the same idea, the teen thinks it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard and should do it right away.

Or, if they ask someone for adviace, they keep asking around until they hear exactly what they want to hear.

Another example is election time. When candidates the debated, I found it amusing to hear reactions from people I knew on both sides. Whoever they were, they believed their candidate had the best “showing” and therefore was truly the best candidate. Same debate!

Confirmation bias goes beyond elections and how teenagers filter information. Confirmation bias pops up in how we do business, how we solve problems, how we make decisions and how we treat other people.

We might hear of what we think is a great idea proposed by an individual or group locally, but as soon as we learn who came up with the idea, it loses its value.

The brain wants to hear what it already believes to be true and magnify that, but discount what goes against those beliefs.

We want to be right about how we see the world, so we shy away from anything that goes against that.

I read an interesting quote about how this bias causes problems.

“If one were to attempt to identify a single problematic aspect of human reasoning that deserves attention above all others, the confirmation bias would have to be among the candidates for consideration. Many have written about this bias, and it appears to be sufficiently strong and pervasive that one is led to wonder whether the bias, by itself, might account for a significant fraction of the disputes, altercations, and misunderstandings that occur among individuals, groups, and nations,”

said a guy by the name of Raymond S. Nickerson.

Short version: our biases could be the reason that people get into disputes and misunderstandings in the first place.

It is a challenge to turn off that bias filter and truly listen to each other, but it can be done. What problems could we solve, if we were to do that? What if we were willing to listen and maybe even change our minds on an issue?

Or maybe, at least, we wouldn’t agree 100 percent, but there would be a lot less animosity going around.


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