The Dangers of Confirmation Bias

By Richard Holdeman - Posted at Gentle Reformation:

The Oxford Dictionary defines the concept of confirmation bias as, “The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.” This psychological phenomenon seems to be on display constantly in our public life, but there was a particularly egregious example of it last weekend. As the annual March for Life was concluding in Washington, DC, a short video clip was posted to the internet purporting to show a group of white teenagers from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who had attended the rally, mocking and taunting a Native American man as he beat on a drum and chanted (pictured above by the Washington Post).

For many people – on both sides of the political aisle – the only evidence needed to come to a conclusion that the boys were racists was the fact that the teenagers were white and that they were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats supportive of President Trump. When videos showing the entire sequence of events leading up to the confrontation between the teenage boys and the Native American man were subsequently released, the entire narrative was turned on its head. The boys in question were actually the victims of sustained, verbal abuse by yet a third party, and it was clear that the Native American man had approached and engaged the boys in a somewhat bizarre and confrontational manner. Some pundits admitted their error in rushing to judge the boys, but many others either quietly removed their critical comments or doubled-down on the original narrative.

Why were so many people (including Covington Catholic High School itself) so eager to condemn the boys? It’s easy to use video to manipulate people, but people were also prone to interpret the few minutes of video they saw according to their preexisting biases against males, against teenagers, against white people, against pro-lifers, against Catholics, and especially against supporters of the president. Threats of violence and various obscenities have been launched against the boys, their school, and their parents – all based on a false interpretation of the events that happened last weekend. And despite there being abundant evidence that the initial story is false, there are many, many people unwilling to give up the story.