Do Our Own Minds Create the Worst Kind of Political Bias?

With all the sources of misinformation out there in the murky sea of information would it surprise you to learn one of the big sources might be your own mind? New research at the OSU has found that when people are given accurate statistics on hot button issues they tend to misremember those numbers in a way that reinforces their beliefs.

One example could be numbers of new Mexican immigrants into the US. This number has declined recently, however true it goes against what many people believe, and they tend to remember the opposite. The real problem begins as misinformation is passed from person to person—this is when it tends to stretch even further from the truth.

In one study the researchers at OSU gave 110 participants with four descriptions of social issues and all of them involved numeric information.

Researchers chose two issues where the factually accurate number relationship fit many people’s beliefs. Most Americans believe that their peers to generally be in favor of same-sex marriage rather than oppose it. This is consistent with public opinion polls.
With the other two issues, researchers chose in the opposite—where most people’s beliefs did not match the factually accurate data.

Most people think that the number of Mexican immigrants to the US increased between 2007-2014. The data tells us the numbers dropped between those years from 12.8 million Mexican immigrants to 11.7 million.

After reading four such descriptions the participants came across a task they were not warned about. The material instructed them to right down the numbers associated with the four issues.

When the factually accurate data met most people’s beliefs about the topic participants got the number relationship correct. Here meaning that most people wrote down that a larger percentage of people agreed than disagreed with same-sex marriage: and this is the factually accurate relationship.

When the factually accurate numbers did not support what most people believe, ss it is in the case of the number of Mexican immigrants having gone up or down, people’s minds ended to play with the numbers. They would remember them in a way that agreed with their probable biases rather than correctly. As an example some participants got the numbers exactly correct, 12.8 and 11.7, but they would reverse the numbers (up from 11.7 to 12.8, instead of the other way around which is factually accurate).