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  • Writer's pictureMaren de Klerk


People tend to fall prey to one of the many cognitive biases that skew our ability to observe the world objectively. This is commonly referred to as “belief perseverance” by psychologists.

This is even more true when people are emotionally charged in any argument or a belief, because the human mind is not pre-disposed to abandoning a pre-existing commitment, especially when it is challenged. This, together with another cognitive bias which is referred to as “opinion polarisation” (this refers to an instance that when a person is presented with evidence that counters your view, that person opts to double-down and leave the original opinion with even more zeal). Belief perseverance and opinion polarisation are the mental traps that permeate our public discourse in these very strange times, especially in the mainstream media.

Since humans tend to display certain inherent thoughts, which are in essence physiological glitzes and physical limits that hinder one’s ability to perceive objective reality and help us towards a version of the world that is at best only partly accurate.

Our senses are supposed to do the job required of them to build an accurate picture of the world, but our senses are inherently limited; e.g. birds and bees can see in the ultraviolet spectrum, but humans are not able to perceive these light wave lengths. Similarly, and as regards to human hearing, we can only differentiate wave lengths between 20 and 20,000Hz, which means that we can neither detect the ultra bass sound that elephants can hear over vast distances, nor the ultrasonic squeaks of bats, with the result that humans are literally deaf to much of the living world.

This explains the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect – a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognise their own incompetence.

In other words, this is a tendency of non-experts to quite confidently over-estimate their abilities or inherent knowledge of a particular subject. A 2018 study showed that the less people knew about autism, the more likely they were to believe their knowledge exceeded that of doctors.

The World Health Organisation stated that Covid “has been accompanied by a massive infodemics” with Dunning-Kruger, a key element in misinformation spreading. The results show that a superior sense of confidence correlated with lower levels of knowledge. This is not something new in human society, because Charles Darwin already referred to this as far back in 1871, when he stated: “Ignorance more frequently becomes confidence than becomes knowledge”.

A well-studied psychological malfunction is confirmation bias i.e. the human tendency to affirm views that reinforce our preconceptions and simply ignore those views that challenge or disprove them. In this regard, it is evident that watching and reading most of the current mainstream media is an exercise in confirming these biases, because we seek out news sources that tend to support our prejudices and it takes fortitude and effort to pursue politics and an opinion with which we disagree. With the advent of the modern social media phenomena it simply turned the echo-chambers of traditional news into booming, vast spaces that not only affirm our prior beliefs, but in fact exploit and amplify them.

Finally, and to add insult to injury, there is another trap worth mentioning, i.e. Meta-bias which is called a “bias blind spot”. This refers to the inability to spot your own bias as coupled with the rareness to identify them similarly well in others.

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