Confirmation Bias: Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News?


– Hey, hey, come here.
Do you know that Rupaul claims
that Trump touched him
inappropriately in the ’90s,
or that Obama signed an executive order
banning the Pledge of Allegiance
in schools nationwide?
Okay, we all know that
that was some grade A,
top shelf, premium, fake news.
But you knew that, right?
You’re way too smart and
well-informed to fall for that BS.
But what if falling for fake
news isn’t about intelligence
or how much information you have?
What if we’re hardwired to
believe what we wanna believe,
regardless of the facts?
The 2016 presidential election
saw fake news come out of nowhere.
A Buzzfeed analysis showed that the top 20
fake news articles on Facebook generated
more clicks than the top 20 real articles
from every major publication combined.
They were shared millions of times,
and it’s not that we’re
just sharing fake news.
We appear to be believing
the stories, too.
A recent poll found that people believe
fake news articles were somewhat
or very accurate 75% of the time.
How can we be falling for fake news
when we have these things?
We have instant access to more information
than we’ve ever had before.
Debunking misinformation should
be a piece of cake, right?
Decades of brain research say no.
Turns out, our brains have other plans,
a little something called cognitive bias.
Cognitive bias is defined as
a limitation in our thinking
that can cause flaws in our judgment.
It’s kind of like an annoying brain glitch
that can lead us to
make faulty conclusions.
Fake news often exploits
this and our brains love it,
even if we’re not
conscious of it happening.
Once we form conclusions,
they’re hella hard to change,
even if we’re presented
with facts or evidence
that directly contradicts
those conclusions.
So, what exactly is going on in our brains
to make us think that
fake news is real news?
Why can’t facts change our minds?
There are many flavors of cognitive bias,
but one of the most researched
is confirmation bias.
We seek out information that we believe
or want to believe is true.
It is also leads us to
ignore or minimize facts
that threaten what we believe.
So here’s a study that
explains how it works.
Back in 2004 during the
Kerry Bush election,
researchers studied a group of 30 people,
half Democrat, half Republican.
Both candidates did what politicians do,
they flip flopped on the issues.
Then, the study asked the participants
to analyze what the candidates said.
The participants let the candidate
in their own party off the hook,
but were super critical of the
candidate in the other party.
When researchers looked
at their brain scans,
they found that the area of the
brain responsible for reason
the dorsolateral prefrontal
cortex, was inactive,
so people weren’t using reason
when evaluating the candidates they liked,
but they were using the part of the brain
that processes emotion,
the orbitofrontal cortex,
a classic case of confirmation bias,
and their brains were also rewarding them
with a rush of dopamine,
a neurotransmitter that
makes you feel good.
So, is there an upside
to confirmation bias?
Well, it could help protect us from ideas
that may threaten our social
standing in our “tribe.”
Dan Kahan, a law and psychology
professor at Yale University
calls it identity protective cognition.
We humans are hypersocial,
so it’s more important
to protect our values
and our relationships
with family and friends
than it is to risk losing
that by adopting new beliefs.
Are you familiar with Tomi Lahren?
She’s a conservative
political commentator.
– A protest is a peaceful
objection to a grievance.
A bunch of sore losers occupying a space
is called a tantrum.
– [Myles] But recently, she expressed
her pro-choice view on abortion.
– Now, I’m pro-choice, and here’s why.
– As a result, members
of her conservative tribe
turned on her.
Ouch.
So, how do we defeat confirmation bias?
Well, you really can’t,
but our three step plan
can help you get around it.
Step one is recognize.
Recognize that you have this
bias in the first place.
We all do.
You made it this far in the video,
so you can check that one off.
Step two is consider.
Consider that you may
not really understand
what you think you understand.
Researchers call it the
illusion of explanatory depth.
Let’s say I strongly believe
that GMOs are bad for me.
If someone forces me to explain it,
I just might realize that
I don’t understand it
as well as I thought I did.
Now, I might be less
confident in my belief
and more receptive to
another point of view.
Step three is research.
Research and break down
the opposing viewpoint.
You may realize that your understanding
of where they’re coming
from is a bit too shallow.
So now you know the perils
of confirmation bias
and have some tools to beat it.
Let’s try it out.
Without being a smart ass,
pick a controversial topic
and use step three on it.
Don’t try to persuade, but
instead use research and facts
to lay out why the other side
believes what it believes.
Put your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
to good use, will you?
(upbeat music)

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