Key Thought for this session:
“Without the context of a bigger stage, BEING TRUE TO SELF is a flattering allegiance to bias and voices of deception.”
Alright!... so, let’s move to the second step in which we study how we form our behavior based on our core assumptions. Interpretation is the process of applying meaning to what we experience. Experts in psychology have discovered a number of influences on interpretation that are part of our human nature.
While humans are generally rational in reaching conclusions, biases are part of everyone’s worldview, resulting in assumptions that can lead to flawed and limited judgments. Again, there are too many of these influences and biases to completely explain in this course. We just want you to get a feel for how complex and powerful these influences of your human nature are on your worldview.
Experts on human behavior have found that it is normal for people to seek evidence and build logical arguments to support conclusions they have already reached—which is, of course, their bias. For example, one recent criticism of scientists around the world has been that they are subject to “the pressure to conform to an idea”. These pressures (whether external or internal) to conform to political, economic and theological influences, end up causing flaws in the conclusions of scientific research. This is called “Confirmation Bias,” which is defined as the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.
As students are conducting research for a paper, they will often tend to search for information that would confirm their personal pre-conceived conclusions on the subject. Students often fail to look for, or fully consider, information that does not coincide with their beliefs.
An employer who believes that a job applicant is lazy, because of a stereotype they have about the applicant’s race, may pay attention to only information that is consistent with their belief that the job applicant is lazy.
While there are many ways that our rational thinking process is flawed, “confirmation bias” is considered to be a strong and relentless influence on us that we rarely notice.
Confirmation bias governs how we collect facts and construct analyses. Confirmation bias is why two smart economists cannot agree on what makes the economy grow or two scientists cannot find the same solution to climate change. Because we somehow know that we all see things our way, we tend to believe that no one point of view is any better than another. This may be one reason that its natural for humans to believe there is no one single, absolute truth. Yet, its confirmation bias that makes politicians fight for their views against each other. Confirmation bias influences who we listen to and accept what they say without question. We join some groups and not others because they tend to support what we believe versus challenging us with opposing viewpoints. How we interpret what people say, who says them, agreeing with arguments others make and so forth are influenced by our Confirmation bias.
Here is how confirmation bias creeps in everyday in every way. A friend told me the story of her son’s first day at school in the second grade. It was a new school and he did not handle change very well. So, she was anxious about his first day and how it would go for him. She drove to school to pick him up at the end of the day, and is sitting in her car looking through her rear mirror when she sees him approach.
All she could see was his black eye. She thought, “Oh no, someone bullied him and hit him in a fight.” She didn’t notice anything else because she was predisposed to think he had a bad day. Then she noticed he was skipping and smiling as he got closer to the car. She was perplexed by this until she finally asked, “how did school go?” He said, “it was fantastic.” Now she was really confused because he had this black eye and she just knew he had been assaulted. So, she said, “son, but you have a black eye, did someone hit you?” “Oh no, mom”, he said, “we had a play today and I got to be a character who had a black eye. This is make-up, it was so much fun. So, I just left the make-up on.”
What had happened to my friend? She was so biased to believe that her son was going to have a difficult first day that she interpreted what she saw through the bias that someone was going to bully him. What she saw just confirmed what she already thought.
And, ... just like my friend, it turns out, we all have confirmation biases. The problem with confirmation bias is that it often causes us not to see things the way they really are. It distorts the way we view the world (or our worldview). However, we can become more objective when we can recognize and confess our own personal biases, which will help us overcome the impact they have on our thinking. With that in mind, we can probably agree together that it is helpful to recognize and confess our confirmation bias.
So where else might we see examples of this? Have you ever made a general statement about people just based on who they are, like “all Asians are smart in math?” Maybe someone thinks about you in a certain way because of your age, or race, or where you were born. Sociologists have found theories to explain this type of judgment we make about people. We like people who are like us in obvious ways, like race, age, gender, height, and nationality. Based on these attractions we tend to categorize people by these same observable characteristics. Attraction and categorization tendencies result in favorable or unfavorable judgments such as Stereotyping. This, of course, just means we believe certain things about people based on some group we think they belong to and... oh yeah, based on the group or network we belong to. If someone in your group takes an action, you will likely interpret it more favorably than an action taken by someone outside your group. By our very nature, we have a tendency to see other groups as competition or potentially a threat to what you want. Who is “in”, so to speak, and who is “out” has a significant impact on how we judge what others do. So just as we saw with confirmation bias, we likewise would find it helpful if we recognize and confess to “stereotyping.”
Have you ever heard of “the old blame game”? “It’s not my fault” and “Why did that happen?” are some of the most common judgments people make. This is called Attribution bias, which is a built in pattern of judging “cause and effect,” meaning, what you ATTRIBUTE the outcome to. For instance, if you were to witness someone take an action, YOUR perspective of what caused the outcome is often different from the perspective of the person who took the action. The fundamental attribution bias claims that if the outcome is positive, then the actor will believe it is because of what he or she did while the observer will believe the outcome is due to situational factors such as luck, destiny or actions of someone else. However, if the outcome is negative, the one taking the action will blame something in the situation and the observer will say it’s the actor’s fault. Watch for this, it is all around you. While personality can influence attribution bias, where blame is placed generally follows well defined rules of human nature. Attribution bias is one of our major flaws.
“I didn’t deserve this.” “You deserve what you get.” “You are violating my rights” or “it’s my right to have this or that.” Do you hear these statements often? Maybe you even said these things yourself. I recently heard a commercial for a home security system where the celebrity speaker said, “everyone deserves protection.” There must be some really big appeal to the idea of “deserve.” Maybe more fundamental than confirmation, stereotyping and attribution biases are the judgments we make about what’s fair? Some experts believe fairness is the greatest concern people have. This may be the most important point for you to ponder in this course. So please pay special attention If you hang around children and teenagers, you often hear, “it’s not fair.” You probably say this a lot yourself. But have you ever stopped to think, what makes something fair or not?