What is a bias?
It's an "ABCDE"—an Assumption, Belief, Conclusion, Decision, or Emotion that distorts our perceptions and narrows our options for responding to experience.
One of the highest espoused values in most cultures, particularly Anglo-Western cultures, is being "objective"—unbiased, logical, and sensible. Most of us are conditioned from early childhood to think of ourselves as seeking the "right" answers at the many decision points we encounter. Moment by moment, day by day, we want to believe that we are analyzing situations skillfully and basing our opinions and behavior on the correct conclusions.
Reality—to say nothing of research—routinely contradicts that belief.
Wikipedia lists more than 75 named biases that psychologists find interesting enough to study. One of the most pervasive of these is simple confirmation bias (a.k.a. selective perception bias). This is our tendency to pay closer attention to evidence and arguments that support our own firmly held conclusions, and to simply discount contradictory evidence. This could partially explain the tendency of large numbers of people to hold fast to their attachments to one political party or another. Once we decide, we don't like to re-decide.
Some cognitive researchers claim that the brain has to consume extra energy in the process of changing or rearranging beliefs, and that simple neurological laziness—the tendency to conserve glucose and oxygen—predisposes the brain to keep the configurations it already has.
The pervasive media culture, and its social media component, provide endless opportunities for bias, as people accept beliefs, impressions, and reports that are completely erroneous. Partisan political journalism in particular is rife with distortions, tortured facts, selective evidence, and downright lies. But once a fraudulent "factoid" is passed on from one diatribe to another, it can acquire the status of unquestioned truth. We might think of this "big lie" or "repetition" bias as relatively innocent, because none of us can reasonably expect to verify the accuracy or plausibility of every political proposition we encounters. Media manipulators capitalize on that assumption every day.
Consider "net-crud," the term given to contrived photographs or stories circulating on the Internet which have been deliberately manufactured or doctored so as to mislead readers into believing they're evidence of remarkable discoveries or events. Claims attributed to "ex-CIA agents," "retired FBI agents," or "ex-NASA engineers" are offered as attempts to legitimize the fabrications. So many people have been raised with a moral injunction against lying that they automatically assume that a remarkable story or claim must be true. It's just too difficult for them to consider that some people willingly lie.
And there are more:
There are lots more biases where those come from. If you find the notion of biases and biased behavior intriguing or relevant to your life, read up on the popular literature on rational and irrational behavior. Of course, you can also start tuning up your perceptual radar to detect possible biases that show up in the behavior of others. And you can trace out more of your own biases by observing more closely the things you say and do every day.
Wikipedia.com - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases
Cialdini, Robert. Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion. New York: Collins Business Essentials, 2006.
Festinger, Leon. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1957.
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