A discussion about bias and blindness

Last week, I was invited to participate in a podcast with interviewer A.J. Norton about the human proclivity towards bias. It was a lively discussion about all the ways that we are prone to look for evidence which confirms our beliefs, and ignore or discount evidence which contradicts those same beliefs. You can listen to the discussion at psychowarfare.com.

Many psychologists suggest that human beings have a basic need to be right (some more than others), and it is in our self-interest to notice occurrences which make us feel superior and correct in our worldview. Given what has happened this week, with the emergence of empowered neo-Nazis, hoping to spark white people’s misplaced pride in their accidental heritage, I think this conversation is an important one for all of us to have.

Knowing that the interviewer wanted real-life examples that people could understand, I began the discussion by admitting my bias against the Dallas Cowboys. As a Philadelphian, I was raised to love the Eagles, and to hate the Cowboys. If I see someone walking on the street who is wearing a Cowboys jersey, I almost instinctively feel the slightest feeling of dislike creep into my bones. When I hear about Ezekiel Eliott’s suspension for sexual abuse, my brain perks to attention, and it just confirms my deepest beliefs that anyone associated with the Dallas Cowboys is pure, unadulterated evil.

I love the following video, which demonstrates my bias in humorous fashion:

Now, of course I know that this bias is silly. People who play for Dallas are not even from Dallas, and players who play for Philadelphia are from all over the country. However, nonetheless, I have these feelings, and I am reluctant to get rid of them.

The conversation covered many areas of bias, that I found very interesting. We discussed how social media’s use of “cookies” filters suggestions and feeds to you that match your internet history, which in turn strengthens your opinions about topics that are covered in them. It can begin to seem that everyone agrees with you about almost everything, because the material you are exposed to is a confirmation of your own opinions!

We also talked about how we have the ability to watch news channels that filter stories that we find uplifting or enraging, and which present news events through a lens that you know they use. If you’re a lefty,  MSNBC will tell you all the reasons why Trump is a colluder, a traitor, an idiot, and a joke all rolled up in one. If you’re on the right, Trump “tells it like it is,” and “is a breath of fresh air.” Meanwhile, on Fox News, Clinton is still front and center, and should be imprisoned for the 33,000 emails. If only we could read them, surely we would read about her desires for global domination, her plans to force all women to have at least one abortion, and her side deals with Satan.

We ended the discussion with some discourse about racism, as an example of how difficult it is for bias to be eradicated. It takes a large number of counterexamples to motivate our brains to question our beliefs. If you want to open yourself up to different ways of looking at life, you will have to be intentional about expanding your field of vision.

If you normally watch Fox News, then watch MSNBC once in a while, and vice versa. Go to a different church, see a new sport, go to a new restaurant, see a movie you wouldn’t normally choose. Look for youtube videos by people who are not like you and all your friends. There are so many ways to view and interpret the world. Perhaps yours is incomplete!

Can you really be right about everything? Of course not. Unless you’re talking about the evil Cowboys…BOOOOO!!!!!!

Let me know your thoughts...