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Fact or Fiction: UNO cognitive psychologist explains confirmation bias

Published: Aug. 8, 2020 at 1:36 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Misinformation has become a glaring problem for many. Over the past few weeks, attention has been drawn to some of the false beliefs people have shared on social media, including 6 News’ Facebook page, about the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, it took little time for false conspiracy theories to surface and spread on social media about the explosion in Beirut.

6 News spoke with an expert as to the reasons why not everyone is on the same page when it comes to facts and fiction.

Beth Lyon is a cognitive psychologist studying human thought at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

She points to two theories of why someone might refute facts.

First -- confirmation bias.

“Basically, when you are looking for evidence to support a belief you hold. You end up looking for evidence that supports your views rather than goes against your view,” she explained.

This traces back to the brain’s core instincts -- if something is scary, run away and you won’t be hurt.

Lyon said it’s a hard habit to break because our brains reward us with a chemical when we think we’re proving something is true.

“This bias is basically why people seek out information that’s already endorsing what they believe in,” she said. Which creates cliques.

“You want to fit in with a group so you endorse information that matches your community’s views.

The “us versus them” mentality has been highlighted in the debate over face masks and the movement for racial equality.

“The danger is, you might be basing your actions on something that isn’t grounded in fact,” Lyon said. “You can maybe take a step back and think, ‘okay, I’m having a very strong reaction to this in either a positive or negative way. That might be my basis and I shouldn’t be having this chemical rush that agrees with me.”

Check your beliefs and don’t take anything at face value -- where are you getting your information and who is the authority on it, she added.

“It can uncover some of the biases that might be inherent in the sources,” Lyon said. “It can be hard, but even knowing that biases exist can be a big step in counteracting them.”

A shift in bias does not happen overnight, Lyon said. She believes in the inherent good of people and that time, patience and kindness will make a difference.

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