Daily Archives: October 5, 2010

Life Lessons from the Library: Bias Wears Many Disguises.

“If there’s an opinion, facts wll be found to support it.”– Judy Sproles.

I once read a book (the title escapes me) on why smart people often believe very strange things. This particular chapter was on alien abductions. The author reported on scientists meeting with some abductees where they gave rational scientific explanations (that did not involve aliens) for what they’d experienced. After they finished, one woman looked at them and said that if someone could just provide her with a better explanation than alien abductions, then she would believe it! The scientists were flummoxed. That is exactly what they thought they had been doing for the past hour.

This may show why bias is so hard to fight. It’s not that we don’t do our research when looking for answers. It’s that we’ve come up with the answer before we do our research and then we look for facts to confirm that belief. And if we can do that with something as “far-out” as alien abductions, then we can do it with just about anything.

That’s why a debate on an emotional topic rarely changes anyone’s mind. We listen to the points that we agree with and discount those we don’t.

So how do we battle this almost inherent sense of bias that we carry around with us?

  • The most important thing is to be aware of it. Don’t be seduced into thinking that you are bias-free. You’re not.
  • Make an effort to pay attention to both sides of an issue. You read an article criticizing the president, and you’re in total agreement with the writer and wonder how anyone could have been so stupid as to vote for this guy. This is just the time to realize that you may be a touch biased. So your best course of action is to search out immediately an article that praises the president’s plan.
  • This is an old trick from composition instructors, but it’s good practice. Whenever you’re coming down on any one side of an issue, stop for a second. Then make yourself come up with three logical criticisms of that position. Bias relies on automatic thoughts, so just stopping and considering other options can help.
  • Have acquaintances and friends from all over the spectrum. At my college, on any given day, I can hear opinions from students, faculty, and staff. I don’t always agree with them, but it keeps me from being isolated and thinking about only one aspect of a decision.
  • Finally, be aware of your own biased thinking. Okay, I know that was the first one as well. But it’s important enough to be said twice. We tend to think of ourselves as logical thinkers who take in all the facts before making a decisions and others as the biased crazies. But we’re all a little biased.