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Friday, January 1, 2016

That's Not What I Heard!

As a student of psychology and people in general one thing that has always fascinated me is how different people interpret the same data/input. I have been doing a lot of reading and studying on the subject and found out the name for this phenomenon cognitive bias. We all have biases that "filter" what how we interpret and use information. Even those of us that consider ourselves "open-minded" are victims to this effect. If we are not careful we can allow ourselves to become quite "close-minded" without meaning to!

Here is a graphic showing 20 cognitive biases that we can all fall prey to:
These are all interesting in one degree or another, but the ones I want to concentrate on are numbers five, seven, & eight.

How many of you have had your child pushed down or hit repeatedly by "such a good boy/girl"? (according to their parent - "they are just high-spirited") Maybe your dog was bitten or snapped at by another overly aggressive dog that was "just curious" or "just playing"? Choice-supportive bias (#5) allows the owner or parent of the aggressors mentioned to totally overlook the actions of their child/pet because they "know" them.

Conservatism bias (#8) allows us to base our actions or beliefs on what may be outdated information. For example, the global warming (excuse me - climate change) proponents refuse to acknowledge that there has been no appreciable warming for over seventeen years. Yet the carbon dioxide level has been rising. Now, there are extraordinarily complex interactions that control climate, and I do not want this to become diverted to that discussion - so, enough said. We tend to cling to what we "know" especially if the new data is very contrary or not widely accepted by our peers. The example given in the graphic is a good alternate one - that of the flat Earth. Except for a small minority of people, it is accepted now that the Earth is a sphere. This was denied for centuries after it was first proposed and was not universally accepted until people circumnavigated the globe. In fact, there were a rather large number of people that needed to see the photos from space before they accepted it!

Now for my favorite - Confirmation bias (#7). This one is a doozy! I first started noticing this when Fox News became a factor. Traditional conservatives tended to watch and follow Fox. Traditional liberals tended to stay with CNN or "main-stream" news outlets. I found this interesting as (at least on the big stories) they are covering the same news. They would have a slightly different spin on it, but the same news. It is all in our interpretation of the news that this really comes to light. For example, today's headline maker: Donald Trump. Now, he is extraordinarily polarizing, I think we can all agree on that. But, his supporters (or those not necessarily opposed to him) listen and like what he says. His detractors (or those that are opposed to him) listen and hate what he says. But, there is one thing I have noticed - the detractors and the supporters do not even know exactly what he said! Yet they still like it or revile it! I have been accused (on comments on this blog for example) of being a Fox News sycophant. I can honestly say I have never watched a Fox News broadcast, except of what portion of the Republican Party debates they broadcast. For clarity, I can also honestly say I have not watched a CNN or MSNBC broadcast (with the same caveat), at least for 15+ years or so. I get my news clips online or from Al Jazeera or BBC.
Back to "the Donald": one thing his detractors and some of his supporters bring up as validation for him is his supposed statement about wanting to require all Muslims in the USA join a registry. He never said those words. But, either side will swear he did.

Another example that I love to point out is Bill Cosby. Now, I am definitely not supporting him or claiming his innocence (or guilt for that matter, the Constitution says he is innocent until proven guilty - but where there is smoke, there is fire it is said and he has a LOT of smoke following him!) Has anyone other than me noticed that since the first accuser came forward there has not been a "good" photo of Cosby in the press? Go to his photos in the news and press releases prior - he was everyone's grandfather. Usually sitting in a sweatshirt with a smile on his face. Now he is always unshaven, unkempt, and looking like he is searching for a small animal to bite the head off of. If you don't believe me, go to the news articles. It is astounding. No one complains because we "know him" to be evil. So, evil looking photos are fine. If those had been shown three or four years ago people would have questioned it.

Bottom-line: I am not trying to get any of you to change any opinions you have. I am asking you to truly examine and validate from many (and different) sources. Also, be open to changing your mind. The world may be round!!

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