Some would say that our country hasn’t been this divided in decades. There are so many issues that have polarized us into different camps; Black Lives Matter, Obamacare, gun control, marriage, and even bathrooms.
It doesn’t matter where you stand on these issues one thing can be certain: the other side is crazy! In fact, you probably have hard facts to back you up, but believe this… so does the other side.
Say hello to “Confirmation Bias”. It’s a scientific term that describes our natural inclination to confirm our position.
Without even trying, we tend to look for things that support our thoughts, interpret data in a way that backs our arguments, and then favorably recall data that makes us right. In fact, researchers have shown that we don’t even need clear evidence to believe it proves our point – we will even use ambiguous evidence in a pinch and think it completely backs us up.
One of the results of confirmation bias is “attitude polarization”. On emotionally charged issues, groups of people are prone to generate very different perspectives using the same data. Once our emotions set us on a particular path, we will naturally seek evidence to confirm that path. In complex real-world issues, there’s enough data to go around to support anyone’s position.
Unfortunately, our bias isn’t on the conscious level and so almost all of us exhibit confirmation bias without even trying.
Knowing about confirmation bias isn’t about doubting your own position. Obviously you are right. Whatever your stance on the issues, you’ve rationally built your arguments on hard facts. Nevertheless, what’s important to know is that the other side has also built their arguments on hard facts (or at least they’ve armed themselves with enough data to “know” they are right).
If we aim to bring healing to this country, it will not be through arguing our agenda. Thanks to confirmation bias, the other side has amassed sufficient evidence to contradict your rational argument. If you want change and healing, you must appeal to emotion; and empathy is the main tool to do so.