No doubt you’ve heard Donald Trump is running for president. It seems as if The Donald has said he might run each of the last four presidential races but he surprisingly took that step this time. The bigger news story came with his remarks about illegal aliens, especially people coming from the Mexican-American border, and the fallout with several organizations he did business with.
Trump’s remarks were incendiary and not worth repeating but now with the death of a San Francisco woman at the hands of an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times, Trump’s views have people talking even more. No doubt many people will take the killing as “proof” of Trump’s claims but is that viewpoint accurate?
There are two psychological concepts at work right now between Trump and this murder story: confirmation bias and the recency bias. Confirmation bias occurs when someone seeks information that only confirms what he or she already believes to be true. Recency effect bias occurs when our attention is drawn to something – like recent news stories – and we give more weight to that information than it deserves.
For example – the chance of being killed by a shark are incredibly small compared to the odds of dying in an automobile accident. However, with the recent shark attacks dominating the news (recency effect bias) many more people will stay away from the ocean than will stay away from cars. Each time another shark encounter is mentioned in the news people say, “I told you so” (confirmation bias).
The same phenomenon is taking place with Trump’s comments and illegal aliens. The comments are mentioned multiple times each day (recency effect bias) and the San Francisco killing is proof (confirmation bias) for many people that Trump is right. The danger is giving undeserved credibility to Trump’s racially insensitive remarks, which only perpetuates the problem of racial tension in our country.
We are all subject to the effects of confirmation bias and recency bias but unfortunately too often we’re unaware of it. He is another example – global warming / climate change. For the majority of people their experience dictates their view on the issue. A couple of very cold winters make many say, “Global warming is a farce. We’re experiencing record colds here!” On the other hand, people in parts of the country experiencing drought or unusually hot temperatures will take that as “proof” that global warming exists. In neither case can you prove or disprove the issue based on your limited experience. Each instance only confirms the bias many people already have on the issue.
So you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with me?” or “Why is this of any importance?”
If you happen to go before a jury wouldn’t you hope the people making a decision in your case would not be swayed by evidence solely because it confirmed what they already believed? Sure you would.
Would you want people making public policy decisions on something as important as global warming based on how hot their summer was or how cold their winter was? Of course not!
Making the best decisions possible entails understanding how our minds work. Sometimes the shortcuts we rely on don’t always lead to the right conclusions because more critical thinking is necessary. It’s hard work but when the stakes are high it’s a worthwhile investment of time and energy.