The Indian cyber-waves have been the frontline of a battle these past couple of days. It looks like the first shot was fired when Rihanna posted a tweet about the farmers’ protest. And this was followed by many other international celebrities tweeting about the farmers’ protest.
Many Indian celebrities responded with tweets containing the hashtags #IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants.— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) February 3, 2021
Indians know India and should decide for India. Let’s remain united as a nation.#IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda
In such times, some of the biggest problems with the internet come to the fore, and the only way to combat it is to understand the flaws in the wiring of our brain. These flaws are called cognitive biases.
These are three cognitive biases that we’d like to draw your attention to today:
- Authority bias: The tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by their opinion.
- Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.
- Availability bias: A mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision.
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We’ve been brought up to respect authority. Be it in school or in our house, we’ve always had authority figures and rules to follow. Hence, we are conditioned to believe that such obedience constitutes correct behaviour. Under normal conditions, this works well to keep society functional. But we’ve also grown up with celebrities as endorsers of various brands and causes. And this has gotten us to illogically assume that everything they say or do has a certain degree of legitimacy. It is one of those instances where authority bias rears its ugly head as attributing credibility to the views of someone who is not a subject matter expert is illogical.
And this leads us to confirmation bias. As implied by the earlier definition, confirmation bias degrades our judgments when our initial beliefs are wrong because we might fail to discover what is really happening. If you have a predisposed theory about anything – for example, if you believe that the new farm laws are good for India (or if you support the farmers’ protest) – you will most likely look for evidence that confirms this belief. And with the internet at our disposal, we are presented with an infinite number of sources that can confirm either beliefs, and to add fuel to fire, this bias also makes us give undue credence to evidence that supports our initial belief. Confirmation bias stems out of the brain’s need to understand patterns and make decisions quickly.
Another bias that stems out of this evolutionary need is availability bias. It is our tendency to create a picture of the world using examples that come readily to mind. This is the reason why more people are afraid of flying than of car crashes; though you’re more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash. This means that our perspective and our analysis is tinted by the experiences we’ve had or things we’ve heard from people who we have come to rely on for information (like the previously mentioned ‘authority’).
These heuristics (cognitive shortcuts) have been of great significance to us, and have contributed a great deal to our success as a species. But the internet changed the game and hence, we have to arm ourselves with the understanding of the shortcomings of our human brains.
Once you understand that you are prone to such biases, you can work around them and try to ensure that they don’t impede your critical thinking and analysis of the world around you.
If you want to know more about cognitive biases, you can check out this resource.
In closing, we would like to quote Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making and behavioural economics, “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
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We have been conditioned (throughout our lives and by evolution) to have a tainted view of the world. Only if you overcome this can you truly be a critical thinker. The same logic applies with your stand on the farmers’ protest.