All entries for Thursday 26 January 2006

January 26, 2006

Political Bias

An MSNBC article comments on a study looking at political bias and mental activity –

Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows. And they get quite a rush from ignoring information that's contrary to their point of view.
Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.
"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."
The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Read it in full here (via 3quarksdaily)

Yet more evidence that we’re pretty good at deluding ourselves. See this previous post on the issue, and this wikipedia entry on confirmation bias.

Those taking part in the study probably didn’t intend to distort reality. If asked whether they were objective, they’d answer in the affirmative. I like to think I deal with comments here and normal conversations rationally without totally ignoring or misrepresenting issues, but one can’t be sure.
It may be difficult to consciously determine whether you’re dealing with an issue reasonably but it’s probably not impossible given some effort. An impartial third party would help matters. The level of frustration being displayed by whoever you’re talking to is another gauge of how fair you’re being. Deliberately questioning existing views every so often wouldn’t go amiss either. Opinions are worth having but they shouldn’t be so linked to your sense of self-worth that learning becomes impossible.

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