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In our Science 200 class, we have been studying the complexity of decision-making and bias in the human brain. One concept that stood out to me was confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. First, we are going to focus on confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias means that an individual refuses to believe/forgets ideas or policies that they don’t believe in. In all, confirmation bias shows how egotistical and self-centered humans are.
No matter how fair and impartial you believe you are, you still unintentionally use confirmation bias for determining your political views and favorite politicians. But that’s OKAY! We all have some kind of confirmation bias, no matter who we are. It’s not a bad thing, but it is definitely something we need to remember when discussing the validity of a claim.
Examining the 2016 presidential election is one of the best ways to observe confirmation bias in our society today. This was considered to be the worst election in United States history. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump split the country in half, with Democrats and Republicans on either side, waiting for the other side to fall.
Besides the high dissatisfaction rates, there is one thing in this election that sets it apart from any other election before. Highly influenced by technology, the media played a crucial role in the outcome of the election. Allegations came out from both Republicans and Democrats, accusing the other of paying different media outlets across the world to spread fake news. Both parties continued with their confirmation bias, refusing to believe anything they didn’t like.
From the graph from Pri News (https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-07-05/russian-twitter-propaganda-predicted-2016-us-election-polls), Russian trollers advanced Trump’s polling numbers by retweeting fake news on Twitter. This caused allegations of fake news that supposedly help Donald Trump win his campaign.
However, confirmation bias isn’t the only thing that plays a role in our political behaviors. In class, we talked about motivated reasoning. When an individual makes excuses for his/ her different behavior, this is motivated reasoning. We learned about motivated reasoning in class through the Trolley Analogy. The Trolley Analogy asked if we would rather kill a stranger to save 100 lives. How do we justify this behavior? Can we come up with a rational reason why we would kill one human to save 100?
According to a study (https://kottke.org/19/09/motivated-reasoning-and-tribal-loyalty-in-politics), an individual will alter their beliefs and ethics towards the favor of their political ideals. For example, if your favorite politician makes a racist comment during a speech, you will still believe that they are a good guy. You’ll make excuses for their inappropriate comments because you share similar political ideals. This plays right into the effects of motivated reasoning on our political choices. We always seem to defend the behavior of the person we like most and share similar ideals with.
In all, both confirmation bias and motivated reasoning play a big role in political bias.
As a teenager who is active on most social media platforms (including Twitter), I know how influential advertising campaigns can truly be through social media. I remember viewing and clicking on many political advertisements around the 2016 presidential election and being completely mortified with what I saw.
I immediately believe every word of bad advertisements about the opponent I disliked. However, when I saw the opponent I was going to vote for, I instantly believed the best of him/her. Often, I would spend time researching the person I was going to vote for. I would look at their achievements and realize how proud I was to be behind them and vote for them.
But, when others would acknowledge the good things about the opponent I was against, I would make excuses. I would claim that they are just doing good things to get “media attention”. There was no way they were actually a good person– because I don’t believe in their political ideas!
Why would I not believe in the positive aspects of the opponent? Why didn’t I look for the good in everyone?
In the end, this leads back to the human flaw of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. We can’t help but use our confirmation bias and motivated reasoning in political situations.
And how can we fix this? We can fix confirmation bias by thinking skeptically about things. Instead of jumping to one conclusion, we can do better as humans to not jump to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is a terrible thing, and leads us to idly think about situations and what they mean. We can do better to evaluate information skeptically and always use our best judgment.
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