confirmation bias and messaging

Several years ago Terry Goodkind introduced us to the wizards first rule: people will believe anything if they want to believe it or they are afraid it’s true. This rule explains a lot of modern marketing, news media and voter behavior. It just so happens that there is a principle in psychology that supports and explains the wizards first rule: confirmation bias. It means that people tend to accept information that fits what they already think and reject things that don’t fit. This is a problem that can turn ugly really fast, especially when you add a second factor.

One obvious second factor is profit motive. People will say things that benefit them, not just in money but in fame, sympathy, votes, likes, views or any thing else they see as valuable. Modern media and marketing types seek attention. There are a lot of folks out there looking to be watched, read, talked about and so on, and media and marketing people know how to get attention: sex, violence, conflict, bad behavior, ‘easy money’, and so on. Luke warm middle ground doesn’t get you anywhere, so they go for polarized views, especially when they can get opposing polarized views… they know that leads to conflict and bad behavior. Best of all, because they are showing what they call two opposing views they get to call themselves balanced.

This creates a nasty interaction; you have people that want to get gain by creating noise and distortion combined with people that are prone to accept what ever is said that sounds like it supports their side. Add to this the innate need of people to find ‘rational’ reasons for what they think and you have a whole new level of fact distortion. This is the kind of stuff that leads to imprisoning an entire group of people because ‘they might be spies’, civil wars and kids posing for pictures with severed heads (sorry folks all of those have actually happened and you can see the wizards first rule in each case).

How do we deal with this? One reaction is to punish ‘them’. I’m kind of wary of this. Actually, in many cases its exactly what the confirmation bias and distortion for profit leads to in the first place, and therefore what I want to avoid…

We can work on their hearts and minds, but that takes time. And how do you do it when you’re as blind as they are?

The first step, the thing that we need to teach ourselves before we try to teach anyone else anything, is to think critically. That is, we need to learn to gather actual information and use it to make informed decisions and not just go on emotion and what other people say. Knowledge is power and it’s more available than ever, but you have to learn how to use it, and use it wisely.

This will take effort, courage and faith (yes, you know, that believe in something stuff) but it’s the only way. You have the right and the ability to think and decide for your self. It is scary but it works.

And dear reader, remember you are not alone. There are good people in this world that want to do right and want you to do right, and there is a greater force for good in this world. I choose to call that force God, but like I said you have a right to think and decide for your self so you can decide for yourself on the existence of that force and what to call it.

Take care,

See you next week.

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