Tag Archive for: confirmation bias

What Goes Around Comes Around: Dysfunctional Politics

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve probably seen me mention that last election I didn’t vote for Hilary Clinton. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump either. I found both candidates distasteful for many reasons and was not going to succumb to “the lesser of two evils.” Some people considered my vote for Gary Johnson a wasted vote. It was no more wasted than any other vote that goes for the losing candidate every four years.

I voted for Obama the first time around but voted for Romney the second time. That was because the economy was still struggling and I thought Romney was much stronger on economic issues based on his business savvy and his debate performance.

When it comes to the “news” I regularly flip between MSNBC and Fox so I can understand opinions (not news) from both far left and far right positions.

I share those facts because I want you to know I consider myself a middle of the road citizen when it comes to politics. When it comes to politics I’ve observed this over my adult life; what goes around comes around. That’s reciprocity in action and it’s led to dysfunction in our government.

Bill Clinton

You may remember Bill Clinton was impeached by congress in 1998. That came about because he lied to a grand jury about facts surrounding his extra marital affair with Monica Lewinsky and his obstruction of justice. The senate did not get the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office.

Everything around that situation caused a big divide in the country. Democrats contended Republicans had been trying to get the Clintons from the day they took office. Remember Whitewater and all the women who accused Bill of sexual advances?

Donald Trump

Here we are just over 20 years later and Donald Trump will be impeached. The charges are different but the approach is eerily similar. Republicans believe Democrats have been trying to get Donald Trump since before he took office, including spying on him and his campaign.

Just like Clinton had his scandals, Trump’s include Trump University, withholding his tax documents, and a bevy of women who’ve claimed inappropriate sexual advances. And, just like Clinton’s impeachment, this one is dividing our country.

Mitch McConnell and Jerry Nadler

Back in October 2010, during an interview in the National Journal, McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Hmmm, seems like there were more important issues he and the Republicans could have focused their time and efforts on for the good of all Americans.

Jerry Nadler doesn’t believe the next election will be enough to unseat Trump so impeachment, and all the divide that comes with that as nation, is the best way to prevent Trump from winning the next election. As was the case with Clinton, there’s no chance the senate will get the two-thirds vote needed to remove Trump. Votes in the house and senate will be almost strictly along party lines. When you see nearly complete party line voting you know it’s a dysfunctional government because no one is listening to the other side or trying to work with them.

Confirmation Bias

As I watched some of the impeachment hearings it was apparent that the grandstanding on each side was not going to persuade anyone on the other side to change one iota. It was completely an exercise in, “Let me tell you why I’m going to vote the way I’m going to vote.”

Do I believe the Democrats inappropriately spied on Trump? Yes, despite some of the IG report findings. Why? Because we’ve already seen how the Democrats plotted against one of their own – Bernie Sanders – in the last election. They wanted Hilary Clinton to win and did everything they could to make it happen.

Do I think Trump was deal making on the call with Ukraine? Yes, because that’s what he’s done his whole life. I also believe government officials on both sides make all kinds of “deals” every day.

Do I think something underhanded went on with Hunter Biden in the Ukraine? Absolutely! Why else does a company pay $50K per month to a guy with so many personal problems and so little industry experience? Because his daddy was the Vice President.


Forgive me if I say, I just don’t give a damn about all of it anymore. I really don’t because I believe there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes with both parties that would probably make your stomach turn if exposed. That is, assuming you really care about ethics and values.

In the situation we’re witnessing right now there’s plenty of blame and ugly shenanigans going on with each party. Neither side has the moral high ground because history seems to be repeating itself right before our eyes. When it comes to retaining power there’s a lot of manipulation going on.

To Do This Week

Don’t waste too much time on the news for several reasons. First, because it’s a time suck. Just like scrolling through Facebook can waste hours you can waste countless hours listening to pundits all day long.

Second, what you’re getting from the likes of MSNBC, CNN, Fox, OAN and others, isn’t really news, it’s highly slanted group-think opinions disguised as news.

Third, there’s nothing you can do about something like impeachment. If you don’t like the result the only thing you can do that might make a difference is to start voting differently. If we keep putting the same people and same parties in power expecting things to change, well, that’s the definition of insanity according to Einstein.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence and persuasion.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 85,000 people around the world!

Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Lynchings

DISCLAIMER: This post is neither for or against Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It’s not pro or con when it comes to Republicans or Democrats. I’ve voted for candidates in both parties over the decades. In the last presidential election I cast a dissenting vote for Gary Johnson because I found both candidates so objectionable for a variety of reasons.

The post isn’t pro or con when it comes to CNN, MSNBC or Fox. If I watch the news at all anymore, I give roughly the same time to each station because it’s like watching the world from completely different vantage points in space.


By now you’ve heard Donald Trump equated the impeachment inquiry into his phone call with the Ukrainian President to a lynching. The backlash over his comment was swift and fierce because of the history of lynching of blacks in America.

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of lynching is “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission.” By definition, a lynching can occur in any culture regardless of race, sexual preference or anything else. However, words take on meaning beyond their stated definition based on their use and history. In the case of American culture, lynching has become synonymous with white mob actions against blacks.

Why that word?

Understanding the history tied to lynching in America, it begs the question – why would Trump use that particular word? For people who dislike (many would use the word “hate”) it’s clear – they see him as racist and that word is yet more proof of their already strong belief. Others may claim he’s just ignorant for using such a racially charged word.

But, could there be another, more strategic reason he used that one word? Perhaps. While it didn’t get nearly as much press last week, Joe Biden called the impeachment process of Bill Clinton “a partisan lynching.” Five other Democrats invoked that word about Clinton’s impeachment. No backlash in 1998, very little coverage in 2019.

President Trump may have used that word to point out a double-standard. I know some of you reading this might think that’s giving him too much credit. Maybe he’s a racist, maybe he’s smart, maybe he’s both.

Double Standard

Is there a double standard in the American press? Absolutely…on both sides!

CNN, MSNBC and other more liberal media outlets have given Joe Biden a pass. After all, times were different in 1998. He apologized. He’s been a Democrat all his life, and so on.

Fox continually gives Trump a pass too. They mercilessly condemned Obama for playing too much golf. Trump owns golf courses and plays all the time! That’s just one example but there are many more.

To deny favoritism from any news outlet would be intellectually dishonest. Each has a worldview/agenda that drives their bias reporting.


Humans have an amazing ability to justify almost anything and our ability to do so comes naturally. Just think about the small child who is about to be punished for hitting another child. “But he did it first!” is a common response. Kids don’t have to be taught to do that, it comes naturally. “Yea, but..” is used to justify so much of what we do.

If you love Trump you will find ways to explain his behavior as perfectly fine. On the flip side, many Trump supporters (Republicans more broadly) easily justified their contempt for virtually everything Obama did.

The same happens with liberals. They see Trump as pure evil and anyone can’t see that, well they must be part of the problem. Sorry but that’s just not true.

Good People

There are good people on both sides. I have friends who identify as Democrats and they’re very good people. Likewise, I know many folks who are die-hard Republicans and they are very good people too.

The difference is each side fundamentally views society, our challenges and potential solutions differently. While some of the people I know post inflammatory rhetoric on social media, when we get a chance to sit and talk, they’re good, reasonable people.

Don’t Be Manipulated

Make no mistake about it, when you watch MSNBC, CNN, Fox or any other “news” you’re not getting the news. You’re getting information that comes from an ideological slant then is supplemented by pundits who also have a biased viewpoint.

We can never remove all bias from the news any more than you or I can remove the biases we have. Having said that, as a society we’re working hard to try to reduce the influence biases cause in workplace (racial, sexual, gender, religious, etc.). We try to do so by setting up systems to help us.

So, here’s the big question – why aren’t media outlets going through anti-bias training? They have no problem pointing out how companies like Starbucks need to do so. Newsflash – media outlets do more to shape our thinking, behavior and politics than Starbucks. When we turn on the news why can’t we reasonably expect, as Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet used to say, “Just the facts.”?


Americans have an incredible ability to set aside differences and come together in the face of adversity. We did it in WWI, WWII, after the assassination of President Kennedy and after 911. We have the ability to set aside our differences and focus on the fact that we’re Americans. The country is far from perfect but still, people from all over the world want to come here because the opportunities are still greater here than anywhere else in the world.

To Do This Week

Question what you’re see, hear and read from the media. Just because what you encounter may be different that your view doesn’t make it wrong. By the same token, just because it aligns with your beliefs doesn’t make it right.

Have a conversation with someone who is different than you. In a non-judgmental way, ask them about how they see the world or certain issues. Don’t contend, just try to understand. I think you may be surprised by what you learn.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet when it comes to the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – has been one of the top 10 selling Amazon books in several insurance categories and cracked the top 50 in sales & selling.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses have been viewed by more nearly 80,000 people around the world! His newest course – Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalities – is now available through LinkedIn Learning.


What We Believe Affects How We See Reality

Over the past month one of the best coaches in college football, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, has been in the news regarding allegations of what he knew and didn’t know about domestic abuse from one of his former coaches. Although I’m a big Ohio State fan I’ve not followed the story so closely as to have a strong opinion about the punishment that was recently handed down. However, what has jumped out at me in the social media and regular media spaces is how confirmation bias is driving the discussion.

If the incidents in question had occurred with Alabama’s Nick Saban or Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh I’m sure Buckeye fans would have been crying, “Crucify them!!!” Their ability to find fault would have come quickly and easily. But all this has happened to their coach so they dissected the situation and defended Urban in an almost lawyer-like fashion.

Again, I have no strong opinion on the whole subject because I’ve not read all the new stories. For all I know Urban may have been overzealously pursued because of his name, his position and/or the sensitivity of this subject in light of the #metoo movement. My point here is this; no Buckeye fan would have gone to a fraction of the lengths to make such a defense if the accused had been Jim Harbaugh or Nick Saban. Why? Confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to look for information to support, or confirm, existing beliefs. People don’t have to work at this because it occurs naturally. Over the course of human existence this bias probably helped us survive as a species. For example, if there was a rustling in the woods it was probably safer to assume it was a threat and run rather that thinking it might be friendly and sticking around to check it out.

On a personal level, when was the last time someone you knew, looked up to, or loved was accused of something? How did you react? I’m willing to bet whatever the case you started looking for information to confirm your existing beliefs about the person in question. Rare is the individual who says, “I’m going to go against my existing belief to see if I can prove to myself he or she did it.”

On the flip side, Alabama and Michigan fans, indeed perhaps all non-OSU fans, likely started off with this mindset, “Guilty until proven innocent!” The confirmation bias of those fans is working in exactly the opposite direction as Buckeye fans. I have a hard time imagining any of those fans looking for ways to exonerate the coach of a rival.

Unlike the days of our ancestors, what we believe is seldom a matter of survival. That means we’re afforded the luxury of time to try our best to set aside our biases and look to make a more rational, thoughtful decision. While life and death may not be at stake, there’s still potentially great harm to ourselves and others when we simply cave to default thinking on serious issues.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Our Hypocritical Selves

Most mornings I eat breakfast and watch a little news before I head out the door for work. I typically flip between MSNBC and Fox so I can get both ends of the political and cultural spectrum. It’s amazing how the very same story can be interpreted so differently. And make no mistake about it, most of the “news” is actually interpretation because a few facts are shared then “pundits” spend most of the time giving their opinions. As I watch and listen I can’t help but think about our hypocritical selves. Saying we – me, you and everyone else – are hypocritical to some degree might sound offensive but please stick with me.

We like to believe we’re rational creatures who occasionally act irrationally but that’s the exact opposite of reality. Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and best-selling author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely would both vigorously contend human beings are irrational creatures who occasionally act rational. Their assertions are back up by scientific research in their books Thinking, Fast and Slow andPredictably Irrational.

Human hypocrisy is seen best in the media and politics. Below are examples.

  • Fox constantly bashed Obama for playing so much golf during his time in office but has no trouble defending Trump consistently going to his Mar-a-Largo resort to play golf.
  • When Bill Clinton said “It’s the economy, stupid,” during his 1992 presidential campaign democrats loved it and he won. When conservatives point to how great the economy is doing now the other side says, “Yea, but…” and will try to convince you despite the lowest unemployment in 50 years things are not as good as they seem.
  • Immigration, now here’s a doozy. When Bill Clinton was for strong borders and enforcing our laws and the democrats cheered. Today Trump is vilified by that same group for trying to enforce the boarders and laws that have been in place for decades.
  • Recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted a passage from the Bible to defend the administration’s current immigration stance and the separation of children from parents who are illegal. If that had been said by Eric Holder I’m sure conservatives would be pointing to verses about the need to take in and care for strangers as Jesus commanded.

Do you see what I mean? Every four or eight years each side flips the script. I’m politically agnostic because I’ve come to the point in life where I see power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I just don’t believe most politicians truly have our best interests at heart.

Why are we hypocritical so often? Here are a few things play into our hypocrisy:

  • Confirmation bias. Most people look for evidence to confirm what they believe, not to disbelieve. It’s not easy to look yourself in the mirror and acknowledge long held beliefs might have been wrong because our beliefs are such a large part of our self-identity.
  • The principle of consistency. Human beings feel better about themselves when they act in ways that are consistent with what they’ve said and done in the past. This tendency gets stronger the older we get. It’s easier to keep doing what you’ve always done rather than seeking new approaches to life and issues.
  • Anywhere from 85%-95% of what you think and do in a given day is driven by your subconscious according to science. That means the vast majority of the time we “think” and act without consciously considering what we’re doing, saying or believing. The human brain is programmed to do this and before you realize it you may be many decades into life with thoughts, beliefs and habits that are very hard to change.

We’ll never get rid of the reality that some of our beliefs and actions will conflict with one another. But, we can make a more concerted effort to challenge our beliefs, thinking and actions. It only takes a moment and it will be a moment well spent, especially if you grow in the process.

I’ll end with something I heard Zig Ziglar say in response to someone who said church was full of hypocrites. Zig replied, “Come join us, we’ve got room for one more.” He wasn’t being cynical and he didn’t try to defend himself because he knew he, and all other human beings, have beliefs, conscious and unconscious, that are sometimes hypocritical. It’s part of being human and no of us is immune. The best we can do is stop fighting it, acknowledge the truth, then be open to the possibility that maybe each of us has room to grow.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 135,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

3 Things are Extremely Hard…

Ben Franklin famously said, “Three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Now you might be thinking you know yourself well because you can describe your likes, dislikes, hobbies, career, family roles, etc. What Ben Franklin was talking about was understanding at a deeper level. Understanding why you do what you do gives insight into who you really are.

Why is it so hard to know yourself? Below are five psychological reasons that stand out to me. As you read, think about yourself in relation to each one.


If you’ve ever walked on a naturally worn path in the woods that’s a good example of habits. The more people walk on the dirt path the more other people will walk on that path even though there might be hundreds of ways to zig zag through the woods and get to the same end point. A well-worn path is easy to follow.

Habits are like paths that are often formed before you realize it. They make life easier because they save you time and energy. And that’s also what makes habits hard to change. Habits usually serve a purpose and therefore have to be replaced with new, better habits.

If you were in the woods it wouldn’t be enough to tell yourself you’re not going to walk on the path (an attempt to break the habit) you’d have to navigate a new path and that’s never easy.

Cognitive Dissonance 

Cognitive dissonance is the human tendency to rationalize what we believe or do so we can avoid feeling hypocritical. For example, you might acknowledge you could eat better BUT you’ll self-generate reasons to confirm why what you’re currently do is acceptable. Your rationalization might include the following: healthy food is over-priced, you’re on the go all the time, or your job has you eating out several nights a week.

There’s a saying in sales – people buy based on emotion and justify with logic. That justification is how people rationalize buying things they don’t need and can’t afford (The deal was too good!) so they don’t feel bad about themselves. Likewise, with many things in life people simply create reasons – true or not – to explain their behavior in ways that allow them to feel better about themselves.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias happens when you only seek or respond to information that confirms your current beliefs. Confirming what you already believe is easier and less time consuming than challenging your beliefs and ways of doing things. This is one more reason it’s hard for you to change.

We seldom state what we believe, acknowledge we could be wrong, then seek to honestly challenge our beliefs by looking at opposing data. Instead we take the easy road without realizing we’re doing it because it helps us avoid feeling hypocritical. This is why most people lock into one media source (MSNBC, Fox, CNN) for their news.

Confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance together create a powerful one-two punch to keep you mindlessly doing what you’ve always done.

Impact of Influence

Over the past 15 years I’ve immersed myself to learn about influence. Something I’ve seen consistently with people is a resistance to the idea that attempts at influence impact them. They’ll readily admit influence techniques impact others, but not them because they’re too smart.

I’ll let you in on a secret…even though I teach influence sometimes I’m persuaded by things I’m unaware of. I pretty much view the world through the lens of influence and if it can impact me at times without notice then how much more with untrained people? Most influence operates at the subconscious level and that’s why you’re unaware when it’s impacting you. And that leads me to my last area of impact…

Our Subconscious

Most neuroscientists estimate 85%-95% of what we do in a given day is driven by our subconscious. In other words, the vast majority of the time we act without consciously thinking about what we’re doing or saying!

Imagine your subconscious is an umbrella over your habits, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias and influence. Each of those primarily operates without your awareness because they impact you at the subconscious level.

This unconscious behavior is a huge reason why it’s so hard for us to know ourselves and understand why we do what we do. If you’re not aware of what’s going on in your mind how can you really know why you do what you?

Think about the Wizard of Oz for a moment. At the end of the movie the curtain was pulled back to reveal the great and mighty Oz was actually just a little old man with a megaphone pulling some strings. Pull the curtain back in your life and you’ll begin to see the reasons for why you do what you do. But beware, doing so will take time, energy and courage and that’s why Ben Franklin was so right when he said, “Three things are hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self.”

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 110,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.


Fan Psychology and Your Favorite Sport Team

This past weekend college football officially kicked off its season and Thursday night the NFL will do the same. There were some big games (#1 Alabama vs. #3 Florida State) and amazing comebacks (UCLA down 44-10 late in the game came back to beat Texas A&M 45-44). There are few things in life that people are more passionate about than their favorite sports teams. Football is king in the United States but in the rest of the world soccer dominates the landscape.

With passion comes some interesting psychology. For example, people will like others who cheer for their team with virtually nothing else to go on. That’s the principle of liking in action. When we find one thing we have in common with someone else, especially when it’s something we’re very passionate about, it’s easy to like them because we view them as being like us.

The principle of consistency comes into play when people make public statements about their team then feel pressure to back up those statements no matter what the facts may be. For example, I have a relative who is a big Michigan Wolverine fan. I happen to be a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan. The two teams have one of the longest, most heated rivalries in all of sports which culminates in “The Game” every November.

When the Maize and Blue dominated the Buckeyes throughout the late 80s and all of the 90s my relative insisted it was because Michigan was a better team and program. The tables have turned since those days and over the past 15 years OSU had owned Michigan, winning 13 times. My relative can’t bring himself to admit Ohio State simply has a better program at this juncture. Instead he chalks up the OSU wins to cheating, poor officiating, rule breaking, luck and just about anything else he can think of. To be sure, there can be bad calls and an element of luck, but it’s hard to argue your team is better when they’ve been so thoroughly dominated for so long.

My relative isn’t alone when it comes to defending his team at all costs. As I noted earlier, to remain consistent it’s normal for people to vehemently defend their team and position at all costs.

One other bit of psychology you’ll see on full display, especially on game day, is confirmation bias. This psychological concept tells us people will search for evidence to confirm their position while denying evidence that contradicts their position. We’re all susceptible to confirmation bias when it come to our teams. Consider how often opposing fans will dispute calls despite clear evidence on instant replay.

Consider the following study cited in The Person and the Situation by Lee Ross, Richard E. Nisbett, and Malcolm Gladwel. The authors wrote, “In this study, Dartmouth and Princeton football fans both viewed the same film of a particularly rough gridiron struggle between their respective teams. Despite the constancy of the objective stimulus, the opposing partisans’ assessments of what they had viewed suggested that they ‘saw’ two different games. The Princeton fans saw a continuing saga of Dartmouth atrocities and occasional Princeton retaliations. The Dartmouth fans saw brutal Princeton provocations and occasional measured Dartmouth responses. Each side, in short, saw a struggle in which their side were the ‘good guys’ and the other side were the ‘bad guys.’ And each side thought this ‘truth. ought to be apparent to any objective observers of the same events.”

Later the authors wrote, “This polarization effect, it seemed, occurred because the subjects in both partisan groups tended to accept evidence supportive of their own position uncritically, while at the same time critically scrutinizing and ‘explaining away’ evidence that was equally probative but that ran counter to their position.”

So, what’s the point here? Sports brings out passion in people. You’ll be accepted by those who cheer for your team and reviled by those who don’t…at least on game day. When it comes to “convincing” someone about the superiority of your team save your breath because it’s like trying to teach a pig to sing – you won’t succeed, you’ll upset the pig, and you’ll get frustrated in the process.

Even Known Irrelevant Information Can Bias Decision Making

If you follow me on Facebook then you know over the weekend Jane and I had a little scare that landed her in the emergency room for about three hours Saturday afternoon. Our time there included a CAT scan of her brain.

Jane had been working out Friday morning with a friend when she felt a sudden explosion (her word) in the back of her head, right in the middle. She said the pain was a 10 on a scale of 10 in the moment but quickly subsided. It did leave her with a mild headache but nothing else so she didn’t think about it anymore until the same thing happened that night.

I wasn’t aware of either episode until she told me about them late Saturday morning. We decided she should call a couple of doctor friends to get their take on the situation just to be safe. Maria, an urgent care doctor, and Mike, an ER doctor, both agreed Jane should go to the emergency room as a precaution.

About a year and a half ago one of Jane’s brothers had brain surgery for bleeding on his brain caused by a subdural hematoma. He had fallen and that caused bleeding inside his scull, which put pressure on his brain. Scary stuff. When describing the incident to our ER friend Mike, Jane mistakenly said her brother had an aneurism. Mike called a local emergency room so we would get in quickly. He also alerted the doctor on call about Jane’s situation.

As we interacted with the doctor in the emergency room he suggested a brain CAT scan based on what Jane described AND because of the information that her brother had an aneurism. Aneurisms can be heritable and therefore caution is needed with family members. The only problem was Jane’s brother didn’t have an aneurism. We confirmed that fact through a series of quick texts. However, once the ER doctor heard the word aneurism it changed his thinking and diagnosis.

Here’s the interesting part about the doctor’s decision making. The doctor told us if he’d not heard the word aneurism, based solely on Jane’s responses to his questions he would have just assumed she strained something while working out and would have sent her home. But his thinking had become biased by irrelevant information. I found it fascinating that this highly trained, logically thinking doctor recognized the bias in his decision making because he even said so! But he couldn’t change his thinking and recommended the CAT scan. I even confirmed, asking him, “If an aneurism had not been mentioned we would not be talking about a CAT scan, right?” He agreed. Despite discussing the irrelevant information at length we decided to go ahead with the CAT scan as a precaution. It came back normal and that gave Jane great relief.

For the most part people are emotional creatures and sometimes rationality just doesn’t cut it. We see it all the time. For example, once people hear about a shark attack they stay out of the water even though such attacks are incredibly rare and they stand a much greater chance of dying in a car accident. It does little good to rationalize with a veteran who suffers from PTSD when he hears a loud sound because his reality has been changed by prior experiences.

For Jane and the doctor the possibility of “what if” led them to a wholly different decision than they would have made otherwise. Certainty is better than uncertainty, no matter how small the odds. In the end, all three of us were more relieved than we would have been despite knowing what we knew about the irrelevant information.

Congratulations America, You Just …

Congratulations America, you just elected the most disliked, distrusted person to ever enter the oval office. I knew I was going to write this headline leading up to the election but I honestly thought I’d be writing it about Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. I, along with just about everyone else, was wrong when it came to predicting the outcome of the election, but the headline is still accurate.

We just witnessed the most contemptuous campaign in modern times and no matter who won history was going to be made. History could have been made by electing the first woman president or it could have been made by electing the first person with zero political experience. My focus however, was that we made history because our nation elected the most disliked, distrusted person ever.

Make no mistake, each side can rationalize why their candidate was the better choice and each can make the case why the other was the potentially the end of our existence. Intellectually honest people will realize virtually everything that was thrown up as a reason to not vote for the other candidate applied to their own candidate as well.

  • It’s hard to dispute that Hillary Clinton has a perceived history of dishonesty and deception. Donald Trump was also viewed as dishonest because of things like Trump University and stiffing workers.
  • Hillary was talked about as a criminal for various reasons although defenders say she was never convicted of anything. Donald was considered a criminal by many people who pointed to all the lawsuits against him. However, his defenders argue those were civil, not criminal, and lawsuits are to be expected in business.
  • Donald was painted a racist for many things he said. Hillary was considered racist having called black teens “super predators” in the 1990s and Bill Clinton was responsible for mass incarceration of blacks.
  • Donald is sexists and perhaps worse. Bill Clinton was every bit as bad and Hillary defended him knowing he’s been unfaithful.

The list could go on and on with each side calling the other hypocritical. Sad truth is both candidates were so flawed many Americans found themselves voting against a candidate rather than for a candidate.

How did either side justify voting for their candidate? Confirmation bias. It’s human nature to look for evidence that confirms what we believe and discount information that is contrary to our beliefs. We all do this to one degree or another.

So how did Donald Trump win? There are lots of theories on that. Detractors say he appealed to the worst part of people. That oversimplifies the problem because there are many good people who voted for Trump just as many good people voted for Hillary.

Trump and Hillary both used scare tactics because politicians and their handlers know fear works. I wrote about this in The Politics of Fear: They’re Trying to Scarcity the Hell Out of You.

Both candidates resorted to manipulation by telling outright lies, half-truths and using lies of omission. Each side will contend the other was worse but no doubt each side used manipulation in an attempt to win over voters.

When it comes to voting people tend to focus on a few issues and those become their rationale for choosing a candidate. To find out more about that line of thinking take a look at Values, Voting and Other Decisions. With so many negatives about each candidate people held their nose and made choices based on the few issues that were most important to themselves.

What is shocking about Trump’s victory are the following:

  1. He was his own worst enemy, saying and doing things much worse than others who’ve seen their political careers end over such things.
  2. The media was against him. With the exception of Fox News all major media was clearly favoring Hillary.
  3. The polls all said he would lose which could have caused people to stay home rather than wasting their time voting.
  4. He didn’t have the backing of his own party, let alone a prior president, the current president, or major celebrities.
  5. His spending was significantly less than Hillary’s.
  6. He had no political experience to help him be seen as an authority.

So how did he overcome such long odds? He was certainly a more passionate, motivating and persuasive candidate. But he also benefitted from timing. If his Entertainment Tonight sex talk video had come out days before the election rather than the FBI disclosure he probably would have lost. I say that because we have short memories and even shorter news cycles. What’s most prevalent in our minds tends to cause us to act in the moment and Trump was darn lucky about the timing of his revelations versus Hillary’s.

I have to admit, when I saw Hillary lost I was happy. But, when I realized Trump won I was sad. I didn’t vote for Trump in the Ohio primary and I didn’t vote for him in the general election. People say my Gary Johnson vote was wasted. Some accuse me of helping Trump while others said I would be helping get Hillary elected. Each line of reasoning is crap! In good conscience I couldn’t vote for either so I didn’t. If our country is to get out of this false choice – the belief that we can only have a republican or democrat become president – it has to start somewhere.

People are saying our nation has never been more divided but that’s not true. Ever hear of The Civil War? I think we were a tad more divided when we went to war against our brethren. We’re not at that point right now and hopefully we never get to that point again.

Here’s what I believe Americans need to focus on. We live in the United States, the U.S. It’s about “US” as in we, me and you, all of us together. We need to begin focusing on what binds us together as opposed to what separates us. We always seem to be able to do that when tragedy strikes (WWI, WWII, 911, etc.) but we don’t have to wait for that to happen. We need to learn the art of comprise and quit depicting candidates as evil and the next Hitler because if we don’t we’re only heading for more division, difficulty and hatred.

You’re Sure You’re Right? Really Sure?

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.

Confirmation Bias and the Sweater Vest

If you live in Columbus, Ohio then you know there was no bigger story than last week’s revelation that Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel admitted knowing about some rules infractions by his players nearly a year ago. If you don’t live in Columbus it’s still likely you’ve heard the story or read about it in the news. And for those outside of the United States think of one of the most revered coaches you know then imagine that person caught in a scandal that seems to go against everything you know about his or her character.
Jim Tressel is known sometimes called “the vest” because he’s brought the sweater vest back into style, at least in Columbus, Ohio. By way of quick review, Jim Tressel has been the head football coach at The Ohio State University for a decade and his success exceeds even the great Woody Hayes’ in many respects. Having won the Big Ten title seven times, including an unprecedented six times in a row, the Buckeyes have played in eight BCS games, three national championships and won the national championship in 2002. You would be hard pressed to find a coach more successful on the field and yet for all the on the field success many would say Tressel’s off the field accomplishments have been even more impressive. His charity work, fund raising and focus on developing young men into good, productive citizens have been held in high regard by all those who know him. It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “If I had a son I’d want him to play for Coach Tressel.”But this post is not so much about Jim Tressel and the controversy he finds himself in right now as it is the reaction to the news. It’s fierce from both sides – loyal supporters of Jim Tressel and Buckeye Nation and those who are glad to see the coach and program tarnished. I’ve read the new stories, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc., and it made me think about a psychological principle I thought would be good to explore — confirmation bias.Confirmation bias is nothing more than the term we use to describe the reality that most people look for information that confirms current beliefs or places more emphasis on information that confirms their current thinking. For example:

  • Republican supporters will look for any and all reasons that Democratic initiatives are wrong, bad or could be better. By the way, Democrats view Republican initiatives through the same distorted lenses.
  • Criminal prosecutors start with the thought that the person they’re prosecuting is guilty and look for information to build that case. Of course, defense lawyers take the opposing stand.
  • When it comes to race, religion and sex we all have preconceived ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, and that shades how we view those who are different than we are.

We’re selective in what we choose to consider and how much weight we put on certain information when it comes to decision making. In the case of the Jim Tressel news story, for those who’ve observed the coach for a decade or more his actions seem inconsistent with previous actions and stated values. It’s only natural to then search for a reason that explains such behavior.On the opposite side, for people who either dislike the Ohio State program or hold a belief that cheating goes on in all highly successful sports programs they come from a position where they don’t look to his prior actions and ask, “Why?” because they place more weight on anything that appears to confirm the belief that everyone cheats in big time sports programs.The goal of this post is not to convince anyone of innocence or the guilt of Jim Tressel because in the coming weeks and months we will hear and see more information. The point is to make us all aware of the reality that we’re impacted by confirmation bias every day and knowing that, if we want to make the best decisions possible, then we need to take this psychological principle into account as we process information. Simply put, we would do well to occasionally try to put ourselves on the other side of the issue.

  • Republicans and Democrats each have agendas and voters to satisfy but with the government gridlock we see I’m willing to bet the average American would like to see the two sides work together more to push agendas that would benefit more Americans. How much could it hurt if each side looked for what’s right in the other side’s proposal?
  • Prosecutors don’t get paid to let criminals go but it would be nice to see fewer innocent people go to jail. Likewise, defense attorneys don’t want their clients to go to jail but we’d all be better off if a few more criminals were off the streets.
  • When it comes to race, religion or sex, we would do well to try to understand those who are not like us rather than focusing differences.

One thing I’ve learned over time is when I do try to understand the other side rather than just convince them of my rightness or their wrongness they seem to open up. People appreciate being heard and that leads to interesting dialog.When it comes to Jim Tressel and the situation he finds himself in, only time and the revelation of more information will allow for a final decision. For most of us his situation will not impact our relationships with loved ones or the ability to put food on the table. No, it’s mostly fodder for social media, talk radio and debate at the lunch table. Having said that, it’s not insignificant if we allow it to change us in a positive way and I think one way is to make us stop and consider our own confirmation bias.Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.