Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


More on Confirmation Bias

Devan Desai has a really interesting post, Baffled By Community Organizing [link to no longer works] :

First, it appears that hardcore left-wing and hardcore right-wing folks don’t process new data. An fMRI study found that confirmation bias — “whereby we seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence” — is real. The study explicitly looked at politics…

What can I say? Following up on my post, “Things Only An Astrologist Could Believe,” I’m inclined to believe this research.

3 comments on "More on Confirmation Bias"

  • Chris says:

    These latest FMRI findings merely demonstrate what many of us already knew.

  • When I first read that line about “hardcore left-wing and hardcore right-wing folks” I assumed it was talking about serious extremists – communists and neoNazis. Turns out it was just looking at people with strong Democrat or Republican affiliation. Maybe any party affiliation at all seems pretty hardcore to the middle-of-the-road folks who fund and write up this kind of research.
    As far as I can see, the study only actually looked at people with strong political opinions, and didn’t compare them with any control group. Like, er, the middle-of-the-road folks who fund and write up this kind of research.
    I wonder whether anyone would get research funding or wide publicity for exploring the converse hypothesis – that people with strong political opinions are actually pretty open-minded, and that the people who have the most entrenched opinions are the bureaucrats who staff the research funding bodies and the journalists who write popular articles for Scientific American.
    (Of course I’m jumping to conclusions myself here, that’s what bloggers do isn’t it?)
    My point here is that there is confirmation bias built into the way these kind of pseudo-scientific studies are funded, organized and then publicized. Not surprising then if, as Chris says, “the FMRI findings merely demonstrate what many of us already knew”.

  • David Brodbeck says:

    I really doubt this is limited to political partisans. If you did the same thing with people who are, say, strongly in favor of a particular industry, or devoted to a particular religion, I bet you’d see the same effect. So while it’d be easy, based on the post, to label political partisanship as particularly mindless, I suspect that’d be misguided. It’s part of human nature to think of ourselves as part of some “tribe,” and decide that other “tribes” are our enemies.

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