As we have discussed in class, confirmation bias is prevalent in all of our lives. It is found especially within the realm of politics. This can cause great tension between family, friends, and coworkers who have differing viewpoints around election time. I, for one, have witnessed this within my own circle of friends and coworkers. The more it was discussed in class, the more it made me want to research the impact that confirmation bias actually has on our political views.
Scientific American provided an experiment within their article to prove how confirmation bias affects our individual political beliefs. The double-blind experiment was conducted by Drew Westen at Emory University. The study took place during the election season of 2004, with George W. Bush running on the Republican side and John Kerry running on the Democratic side. In his study, he took an MRI of 30 males – half of the males claimed to be strong Republicans and the other half claimed to be strong Democrats. They listened to statements from both candidates during the study and had to state their thoughts on the candidate’s statements. The study proved that the Republicans were more critical of Kerry’s comments and Democrats were more critical of Bush’s comments.
However, can we rely on this study alone to prove the correlation? The study resulted in different emotional waves getting triggered in the brain, depending on which candidate the males favored. This study is not enough to prove the correlation between politics and confirmation bias because it only sampled a small group of people. Also, every one has different sets of beliefs. Are all of the people in this study as strongly opinionated as they say they are? You would have to furtherclassify what a “strong” Democrat or Republican entails. Westen did not report what kind of statements that were listened to for his experiment. Were one candidate’s statements more persuasive compared to the other? Westen conducted the experiment in a systematic manner, but the number of his subjects is too small in order for this study to be evidence that confirmation bias is found in politics. A way in which he could improve this experiment would be to increase and vary the amount of subjects that partake in the study.
This is also a reminder to all of us that we must take confirmation bias into consideration whenever we are investigating a certain topic, especially politics. Fox News will report a different news story compared to CNN and vice versa because they come from two different ends of the political spectrum. They have two different audiences they are trying to appeal to – the Republicans and Democrats, respectively. When an anchor tries to bring in analysts from both sides, audiences will side with the analyst they agree with and ignore what the other has to say. However, we can not function as a society in this manner. We have to be willing to hear both sides in order to form our own conclusions as to what we believe is correct We must also be aware of the confirmation bias found in our own reporting and be willing to investigate both sides of the story, rather than simply relying on the story that fits our own narrative or opinion best.