Category Archives: cognitive dissonance

News startups aim to improve public discourse

A Nieman Reports article highlights four startups seeking to improve public discourse. Let’s hope efforts to create methods and technologies along these lines accelerate and succeed in producing positive outcomes.

Neuroscience report on Dumpsters

See this report. While it also applies to ignorant Dems, however “studies have shown that Democrats now tend to be generally more educated than Republicans, making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect.”

“Perhaps this helps explain why Trump supporters seem to be so easily tricked into believing obvious falsehoods when their leader delivers his ‘alternative facts’ sprinkled with language designed to activate partisan identities. Because they lack knowledge but are confident that they do […] they are less likely than others to actually fact-check the claims that the President makes. This speculation is supported by evidence from empirical studies.”

Dunning-Kruger effect:

“In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability; without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.”

“A new study published in the journal Political Psychology, carried out by the political scientist Ian Anson at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, not only found that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies to politics, it also appears to be exacerbated when partisan identities are made more salient. In other words, those who score low on political knowledge tend to overestimate their expertise even more when greater emphasis is placed on political affiliation. […] This occurred with both Republicans and Democrats, but only in those who scored low on political knowledge to begin with.”

“We should not lose all hope in trying to reach the victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. At least one study found that incompetent students increased their ability to accurately estimate their class rank after being tutored in the skills they lacked. With the right education methods and a willingness to learn, the uninformed on both sides of the political aisle can gain a meta-awareness that can help them perceive themselves more objectively.”

Saturday Subjective

For something a little different to start your weekend, here is a glimpse into one man’s subjective world. He asks himself what consciousness is. He observes, “Life is fear,” yet his mind has found a way to peace. What is the adaptive significance of magical thinking? What is the value of cozying up to ambiguity?

CUCLI from Xavier Marrades on Vimeo.


Differences in liberal and conservative bias

Thanks to Normalanga for sending this study to me,  in which participants were paid to read opposing political Twitter feeds for a month. The results were that conservatives were “substantially more conservative” after the experiment, while liberals were “slightly more liberal […] though none of these effects were statistically significant.” It is obvious that liberal and conservative bias is on an asymmetrical scale.

Why some conservatives are blind to climate change

Article by Jiaying Zhao et al. in The Conversation. Some excerpts:

“Despite the strong evidence that human activities are contributing to climate change, a small minority of the public disagrees with the scientific consensus. […] When we analyzed the data, we found a pattern: Conservatives who were less concerned about climate change were less likely to see climate-related words than liberals who were worried about the issue. In short, conservatives showed climate change blindness.”

“Now that we know people’s political orientation affects their visual attention to climate change, this raises a possible feedback loop, where concerned liberals readily tune their attention to news headlines about climate change and become even more concerned. But unconcerned conservatives may be more blind to the same headlines about climate change and therefore become more entrenched in their disbelief. The visual blindness can further deepen the denial of the real risks of climate change such as flooding, hurricanes, drought and heatwaves, and consequently a lack of action to mitigate climate change.”

The article goes on to suggest ways of framing climate change in terms amenable to these conservatives. See the link for more.

Study of fake news in the 2016 election

Authors from Princeton, Dartmouth and Exeter published this. The abstract:

“Though some warnings about online “echo chambers” have been hyperbolic, tendencies toward selective exposure to politically congenial content are likely to extend to misinformation and to be exacerbated by social media platforms. We test this prediction using data on the factually dubious articles known as “fake news.” Using unique data combining survey responses with individual-level web traffic histories, we estimate that approximately 1 in 4 Americans visited a fake news website from October 7-November 14, 2016. Trump supporters visited the most fake news websites, which were overwhelmingly pro-Trump. However, fake news consumption was heavily concentrated among a small group — almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets. We also find that Facebook was a key vector of exposure to fake news and that fact-checks of fake news almost never reached its consumers.”

So fake news bias is not at all the same as real news bias. Same for anti-science and science bias. False equivalency. The first paragraph below supports this in that only a certain sub-set (as described above) consume only fake news in their filter bubbles. Another study showed the rest of us fact-check and compare other news sources and hence are not as inclined to confirmation bias:

“The combination of rising partisanship and pervasive social media usage in the United States have created fears of widespread “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles” (Sunstein, 2001; Pariser, 2011). To date, these warnings appear to be overstated. Behavioral data indicates that only a subset of Americans have heavily skewed media consumption patterns” (Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2011; Barber´a et al., 2015; Flaxman, Goel, and Rao, 2016; Guess, 2016).

Seeing my blindfold

I’ve found some thought-provoking answers on the Q&A social media site, Quora. Follow the link to a perceptive and helpful answer to, “Can a person be able to objectively identify exactly when and how their thinking processes are being affected by cognitive biases?

The author provides some practical (if exhausting) recommendations that, if even partly followed by a third-to-half of people (my guestimate), would possibly collapse the adversarial culture in our country.

It takes more than facts

Excellent article by George Monbiot. He’s right to assert that one’s worldview narrative trumps all other considerations, like facts. Such stories organize how we see everything through their lenses. Monbiot notes that the two major narratives of our time are social democracy and neoliberalism. While having different means and goals they both have the same narrative structure:

“Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero – who might be one person or a group of people – revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order.”

This notion of a hero has to go; we the people collectively and collaboratively become the initiators and maintainers of the story, not some special class of enlightened ones. We work together to enlighten each other, and it is in that connective interaction where the enlightenment resides, not some special individual achievement.

He explains why we can’t simply go back to the earlier story of social democracy to overcome the current story of neoliberalism. Among other reasons, the earlier story assumes continual economic growth with the same consumer lifestyle, devastating to the environment and more fuel for climate chaos.

So we must create a new story ASAP. This story must be based on our evolutionary capacity for mutual collaboration and aid. It’s one that rejects the narrative told by neoliberalism of  “extreme individualism and competition.” Instead we share ownership and stewardship in community, respecting and honoring each other and the environment.

“We will develop a new economics that treats both people and planet with respect. We will build it around a great, neglected economic sphere: the commons. Local resources will be owned and managed by communities, ensuring that wealth is widely shared. Using common riches to fund universal benefits will supplement state provision, granting everyone security and resilience.”

Monbiot shows how this story has already been taking shape and having positive effects. Sanders’s campaign was one huge water mark. It organized numerous small networks via the internet and got most of its spending money from a large number of small donors. Such tactics were used successfully by Corbin in the UK. The Indivisible Guide grew out of this learning process.

In keeping with Lakoff it’s the Big Picture Story around which everything else revolves. Rifkin would wholehearted agree. The collaborative commons narrative is here to stay, gaining ground by the day. The more we feed it the more it becomes a reality. Keep up the good work citizens.

How to deprogram Trump voters

Good article by a brain scientist on the topic. Numerous reliable fact check orgs have proven without doubt that Dump is by far the Biggest Liar. So why do Dumpsters believe him and how do we deprogram that false belief? The scientist said supporters are manipulated by the  “illusory truth effect, a thinking error in our minds that happens when false statements are repeated many times and we begin to see them as true. In other words, just because something is stated several times, we perceive it as more accurate.”

It plays on our emotions, as we get comfortable with repeated things. Our automatic emotional system is activated, a more ancient brain network. It’s a fast response system to protect us from immanent threat. But that automatic system is not well suited to more slow, deliberate considerations necessary for living in a more complex society. The former system feeds our preconceptions and elicits more comfortable feelings.

So more specialized and targeted media like Fox feeds those preconceptions by triggering the fight or flight response and then reinforces repeatedly comforting lies and misrepresentations. It is intentionally directed at the automatic response system. Dump and the Russians take advantage of this by calling “fake news” anything factual that counters their lies and followers eat it up like candy on Halloween.

So it takes the slow, deliberate and reflective thinking brain to counter this. But this must be done via the automatic system.

“To get more conservatives to turn on the intentional system when evaluating political discourse we need to speak to emotions and intuitions—the autopilot system, in other word. To do so, we should understand where these people are coming from and what they care about, validate their emotions and concerns, and only then show, using emotional language, the harm people suffer when they believe in lies. For instance, for those who care about safety and security, we can highlight how it’s important for them to defend themselves against being swindled into taking actions that make the world more dangerous. Those concerned with liberty and independence would be moved by emotional language targeted toward keeping themselves free from being used and manipulated. For those focused on family values, we may speak about trust being abused.”

Illusory Pattern Perception

This article discusses a new paper in the European Journal of Social Psychology that shows our brain’s penchant for seeing patterns can go awry. Illusory pattern perception is displayed for example in climate science denial, 9/11 truthers, Pizzagate etc. This phenomenon correlates with irrational beliefs that connect dots that aren’t there. We all have this tendency to confirm our biases. However training in critical thinking can reduce the effects of this syndrome.