Confirmation Bias: Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News?


– Hey, hey, come here.
Do you know that Rupaul claims
that Trump touched him
inappropriately in the ’90s,
or that Obama signed an executive order
banning the Pledge of Allegiance
in schools nationwide?
Okay, we all know that
that was some grade A,
top shelf, premium, fake news.
But you knew that, right?
You’re way too smart and
well-informed to fall for that BS.
But what if falling for fake
news isn’t about intelligence
or how much information you have?
What if we’re hardwired to
believe what we wanna believe,
regardless of the facts?
The 2016 presidential election
saw fake news come out of nowhere.
A Buzzfeed analysis showed that the top 20
fake news articles on Facebook generated
more clicks than the top 20 real articles
from every major publication combined.
They were shared millions of times,
and it’s not that we’re
just sharing fake news.
We appear to be believing
the stories, too.
A recent poll found that people believe
fake news articles were somewhat
or very accurate 75% of the time.
How can we be falling for fake news
when we have these things?
We have instant access to more information
than we’ve ever had before.
Debunking misinformation should
be a piece of cake, right?
Decades of brain research say no.
Turns out, our brains have other plans,
a little something called cognitive bias.
Cognitive bias is defined as
a limitation in our thinking
that can cause flaws in our judgment.
It’s kind of like an annoying brain glitch
that can lead us to
make faulty conclusions.
Fake news often exploits
this and our brains love it,
even if we’re not
conscious of it happening.
Once we form conclusions,
they’re hella hard to change,
even if we’re presented
with facts or evidence
that directly contradicts
those conclusions.
So, what exactly is going on in our brains
to make us think that
fake news is real news?
Why can’t facts change our minds?
There are many flavors of cognitive bias,
but one of the most researched
is confirmation bias.
We seek out information that we believe
or want to believe is true.
It is also leads us to
ignore or minimize facts
that threaten what we believe.
So here’s a study that
explains how it works.
Back in 2004 during the
Kerry Bush election,
researchers studied a group of 30 people,
half Democrat, half Republican.
Both candidates did what politicians do,
they flip flopped on the issues.
Then, the study asked the participants
to analyze what the candidates said.
The participants let the candidate
in their own party off the hook,
but were super critical of the
candidate in the other party.
When researchers looked
at their brain scans,
they found that the area of the
brain responsible for reason
the dorsolateral prefrontal
cortex, was inactive,
so people weren’t using reason
when evaluating the candidates they liked,
but they were using the part of the brain
that processes emotion,
the orbitofrontal cortex,
a classic case of confirmation bias,
and their brains were also rewarding them
with a rush of dopamine,
a neurotransmitter that
makes you feel good.
So, is there an upside
to confirmation bias?
Well, it could help protect us from ideas
that may threaten our social
standing in our “tribe.”
Dan Kahan, a law and psychology
professor at Yale University
calls it identity protective cognition.
We humans are hypersocial,
so it’s more important
to protect our values
and our relationships
with family and friends
than it is to risk losing
that by adopting new beliefs.
Are you familiar with Tomi Lahren?
She’s a conservative
political commentator.
– A protest is a peaceful
objection to a grievance.
A bunch of sore losers occupying a space
is called a tantrum.
– [Myles] But recently, she expressed
her pro-choice view on abortion.
– Now, I’m pro-choice, and here’s why.
– As a result, members
of her conservative tribe
turned on her.
Ouch.
So, how do we defeat confirmation bias?
Well, you really can’t,
but our three step plan
can help you get around it.
Step one is recognize.
Recognize that you have this
bias in the first place.
We all do.
You made it this far in the video,
so you can check that one off.
Step two is consider.
Consider that you may
not really understand
what you think you understand.
Researchers call it the
illusion of explanatory depth.
Let’s say I strongly believe
that GMOs are bad for me.
If someone forces me to explain it,
I just might realize that
I don’t understand it
as well as I thought I did.
Now, I might be less
confident in my belief
and more receptive to
another point of view.
Step three is research.
Research and break down
the opposing viewpoint.
You may realize that your understanding
of where they’re coming
from is a bit too shallow.
So now you know the perils
of confirmation bias
and have some tools to beat it.
Let’s try it out.
Without being a smart ass,
pick a controversial topic
and use step three on it.
Don’t try to persuade, but
instead use research and facts
to lay out why the other side
believes what it believes.
Put your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
to good use, will you?
(upbeat music)

35 comments

  1. The chart at 00:52 is somewhat misleading – Buzzfeed's data compares the top 20 individual articles from mainstream publications against the top 20 individual articles from fake news sites; however, one "individual article" is not the best unit of analysis, since it doesn't account for multiple news groups covering the same story.

    Consider the following example: a real news event happens and 10 outlets simultaneously publish articles about it, the story collectively generates 1 million reactions, split roughly evenly among the 10 publications. A fake news site publishes a fake news article, which generates 150,000 reactions, but since that site made it up, no other outlet publishes on the same "news." So the fake news article generates more reactions than any individual real article (150k vs. 100k), despite generating far fewer total reactions. (Incidentally, this pattern likely explains why many of the top mainstream articles are opinion or commentary, not pure reporting, since the former would be less likely to be replicated across multiple outlets)

    Now it is still troubling that these fake news articles generated hundreds of thousands of reactions, but to make it seems (as Buzzfeed's chart does) that there were more aggregate reactions to fake news than real news is misleading.

  2. Interesting channel and good presentation so far!

    Even though I got the impression that this channel caters mostly to a US-centric audience I don't mind. Most of the issues discussed here can be applied to other countries/ethnicities though.

    As for the presentation I think there's a reasonable balance between engaging visuals and audio. However for me it felt a bit "noisy" at times (which might contradict with the idea behind the channel). Although I guess this presentation style works for most people.

  3. Wizard's First Rule:
    "People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe
    almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie
    because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it
    might be true. People's heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs,
    and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid;
    they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth,
    and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool."
    -Terry Goodkind, The Sword of Truth

  4. Can you do some videos on poorly released scientific papers/news, and break down why they were bad science?

  5. Ok. I'm gonna try your exercise proposal to try convince myself that climate change is fake. Wish me luck.

  6. 4:20
    If I could name the number of times I've tried to objectively prove my point, only to find that I was wrong in the first place.

    It's worth pointing out that this works better in some mediums than others. As he mentioned in the video, we're very social creatures. Often times when I have a verbal debate with someone face to face, I will refuse to back down from my position, but later when I've had an opportunity to reflect on the discussion in private, I'll sometimes come to the conclusion that the other person was right.

    In contrast, when I try to argue a point online, I don't have to be extemporaneous with my argument. I have more time to imagine how my audience will react and to develop a coherent argument against that. I can play out a hypothetical debate in my imagination, effectively a debate with myself. In this process, It's much easier to overcome cognitive bias and convince myself that a preconceived notion may be wrong, than if I were having the same argument extemporaneously with someone else, face to face.
    Debates online also have the benefit of being drawn out over the course of several days with back to back posts, rather than playing out in one sitting. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on and critique the details of an argument when we're not actively trying to point them out to each other.

  7. how does PBS make so many good series. like most youtube channels can barely make one decent series

  8. This channel is really good. Thank you. I'd love to watch a few episodes about religion in science classrooms (relating to vaccines, sex-ed, climate change, and biological evolution).

  9. I'm a librarian at a community college. These videos are perfect for our students. Seriously, you need to get these in the hands of every community college. Would you give your permission to librarians to use these videos in presentations? These are amazing!

  10. Y2k really happened and everything we see is controlled by moonmen :p

    Joking aside this is great and id love to see your channel grow. Ive also noticed i tend to be more dismissive of opposing views even though i consider myself openminded so i gotta use those 3 steps more thanks.

  11. Leftist Bill Maher is highly critical of Islam. Leftists shit on him for it. I am fairly right wing but I do think (to a certain extent) human beings are causing our climate to change. I got shit on for that too haha.

  12. If I want to believe I've found confirmation bias, then would I be guilty of confirmation bias for finding confirmation bias? 😀 Seriously, great video and channel! Best, Shan 🙂

  13. I'm a Liberal but I agree with a lot of what Tomi says. I think some liberals have a confirmation bias against anything that criticises minorities, and when you point out things like "BLM burned their own communities in the Charlotte riots, negativity affecting blacks" or "BLM protestors sometimes beat up white people" or "Muhammad, and by extension, Islam promote violence," you're branded as either a racist, or a sellout (the latter of which I have been accused of 🤦🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️) which shuts down the argument, even though everything I said was based in some truth, not merely opinions. I never used to accept these things, but over time, I grew to realise that some things are either just true, or false. Now, I try to base my opinions in facts. These, of course, are just three of many examples.

    Another thing I find interesting about Americans (I'm not one) is that it's fine for them to have opinions about other places in the world, but when people have opinions about America, they're like "you're not one of us". A bit hypocritical.

  14. I can't take anyone seriously, that would take BuzzFeed as a reputable source. Maybe crap like that is why this channel does not have more subscribers.

  15. How does Tomi Lahren changing her opinion on abortion relate to fake news or confirmation bias? Are people required to accept her opinion? Maybe subtly inserting irrelevant shit into your videos detracts from the point you are attempting to convey?

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