Confirmation Bias: Certainly Not Me?
During the primaries and Bernie Sanders impromptu run, I found myself running and jumping through hoops to debunk what family and friends were saying about him on social media and their preconceived notions of what constitutes Socialism, particularly Democratic Socialism. I explained the difference between Socialism and Communism, debunked the “Bernie will tax all of us into the ground and give the money to the lazy poor!” arguments, even worked through poorly made analogies about letter grades and equivocating that to Bernie's ideals. I couldn't help but think during this time, “Why don't people just think it through and fact-check?”
During this time, and a little after dealing with this thought, I came across a post that ran the headline, “The last time America had a Democratic Socialist, we elected FDR!” Not to ignore the terrible wrongs FDR committed, but this man was someone I idolized and respected for what he did with the New Deal. I quickly passed it along and didn't think much further on the matter. Several hours later, people were posting on the matter on my feed and letting me know that I was, in fact, incorrect.
FDR was not a Democratic Socialist and that term was used against him to delegitimize and hurt him. I found myself to be suffering from the same issue I would admonish others for: I suffered from confirmation bias.
Simply put, confirmation bias is the bias that makes us seek and find information that already confirms what we think and believe. We often crave and are more likely to trust anything that confirms that our viewpoint is right, no matter how far-fetched it is. In the FDR and Bernie Sanders comparison, my belief that Democratic Socialism is a system that can thrive and that it has worked before was confirmed. I didn't bother to fact-check or even check who linked or posted it. I was doing the same thing as the ones I admonished.
Maybe this has occurred to you or has you thinking about your own biases and your susceptibility to trusting them. The question then is: Where do we go from here to fix this issue? While I don't believe we can ever fully erase bias and the comfort of things that support our ideology, recognizing that this is in an issue is a good first step. The next step is taking a step back and scrutinizing the information we receive, especially if it's something we find aligns with our ideology. We must examine it vigorously, more than we would for something we disagree with, and make sure that the information portrayed is both accurate and well-researched. From there, it's about using it in a way that is helpful and productive.
Confirmation bias is an issue that affects us all at some point. It's impossible not to have this bias to some degree and that creates issues in trying to connect and establish conversations with people on the other side. The sooner we can minimize its impact and make sure correct and useful information is being distributed, the sooner we can move forward as a society.