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Research Strategies: Bias


Confirmation Bias

"Confirmation bias is the idea that we tend to accept information unquestionably when it reinforces some predisposition we have or some existing belief or attitude." Brendan Nyhan, American Political Scientist and Assistant Professor, Dartmouth

Source: confirmation bias and other biases

Webcomic depicting someone clicking on the first link to come up that agrees with them, and not looking at opposing points of view

Keep in mind: combining an open mind with informed skepticism is tough work. Discovering lots of new ideas and opinions is cognitively taxing. Different ideas, especially ones that challenge our deeply-held beliefs (sometimes beliefs we didn't even know we had) can leave us feeling upset, frustrated, and unsettled. It feels like getting the rug yanked out from under you. If you feel this way, it's okay! It takes courage and perseverance to tackle this mental work, and you are up to the task.

It's tempting to automatically reject things that make us feel frustrated. If you stay aware of your own thoughts and feelings, you'll be better able to navigate this. 

Here are some questions for reflection. You might find it useful to write your thoughts down as you work through them.

  • Am I part of this audience or an outsider?
  • Are this writer’s basic values, beliefs, and assumptions similar to or different from my own? (How does this writer’s worldview accord with mine?)
  • How do I respond to this text? (Will I go along with or challenge what this text is presenting? How has it changed my thinking?)
  • How will I be able to use what I have learned from this text?

You don't have to go it alone, too! It can be really helpful to talk through your reactions to and questions about a source. Seek out a classmate, your roommate, a friend, your instructor, etc.

And of course, you can always ask a librarian!

Filter Bubbles


Filter Bubbles

Questions to Consider:

  • Are your news sources diverse?
  • How do you encounter viewpoints different from your own?
  • Can you listen and try to understand the other side?

Watch the Eli Pariser TED talk to learn more about the filter bubble effect. 
“Your filter bubble is your own personal, unique universe of information that you live in online. What’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But you don’t decide what gets in — and more importantly, you don’t see what gets edited out,” he said.