This is the first of two lessons that explore the ways in which biases affect news and information—how news is created and reported (by journalists and others) and how we interpret it. The lesson begins with an activity that helps students experience confirmation bias firsthand. Then, students gain context for their experience by hearing from experts about how confirmation bias operates in all of us. Finally, we set the stage for the ongoing discussion about the challenges of separating fact from fiction by listening to a National Public Radio story about efforts to correct rumors and fake news.
The identity conversations from the previous lessons provide a good segue into discussions of bias. The main focus of this lesson will be on helping students understand a particular kind of bias—confirmation bias—but you may want to share definitions of confirmation bias in the context of implicit and explicit bias.
Bias is a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others, which often results in treating some people unfairly.
Explicit bias refers to attitudes and beliefs (positive or negative) that we consciously or deliberately hold and express about a person or group. Explicit and implicit biases can sometimes contradict each other.
Implicit bias includes attitudes and beliefs (positive or negative) about other people, ideas, issues, or institutions that occur outside of our conscious awareness and control, which affect our opinions and behavior. Everyone has implicit biases—even people who try to remain objective (e.g., judges and journalists)—that they have developed over a lifetime. However, people can work to combat and change these biases.
Confirmation bias, or the selective collection of evidence, is our subconscious tendency to seek and interpret information and other evidence in ways that affirm our existing beliefs, ideas, expectations, and/or hypotheses. Therefore, confirmation bias is both affected by and feeds our implicit biases. It can be most entrenched around beliefs and ideas that we are strongly attached to or that provoke a strong emotional response.
The term confirmation bias was coined by English psychologist Peter Wason. He devised a test (known as the Wason Rule Discovery Test) to demonstrate that most people do not effectively test their hypotheses (or beliefs). Instead of trying to falsify a hypothesis to test it, people tend to try to confirm it (as seen in the video included in this lesson).
If you are interested in a more detailed discussion of bias, watch our video "Diffusing Bias" that features Binna Kandola, a psychologist and diversity scholar, discussing different types of biases and ways individuals can work to minimize their impact.