UNIT 3. SOCIAL MEDIA

Part B: Cognitive Distortions

Why can people be manipulated so easily? Learn about how our mind works when we interact with information and how social media taps into it .
Cognitive Distortions:
What They Are and Why They Happen
What are some types of cognitive distortions and how do they influence our beliefs and opinions?
Learn why it is important to challenge ourselves and look for alternative points of view.
Common Biases
Do you believe that drinking coffee is good for your health? Let's assume you do. Then you're more likely to search for information that supports your existing opinion. You are also more likely to be more critical of information that contradicts it. For example, you may look for scientific studies that say coffee consumption healthy. This phenomenon is called motivated reasoning: you already have certain beliefs and you are motivated to look for information that confirms them.

Once you find a study which supports your opinion regarding coffee, you are very likely to believe it without really questioning its validity. This is confirmation bias. You tend to accept information that supports your pre-existing beliefs, sometimes without trying to verify that information.

Both motivated reasoning and confirmation bias are cognitive biases that lead to overconfidence in one's own views, and make people internalize misconceptions and, as an outcome, make bad decisions. For example, despite the wealth of scientific evidence that say vaccines are safe to use, there is a lot of false information out there that says vaccination is bad for our health. A person might see this false information and search for more information that supports it—cognitive distortions can reinforce these false beliefs. People who believe that vaccination is dangerous and do not want to be vaccinated can put their own health and the health of their family members at risk. Beyond that, they may vote for politicians who support anti-vaccination movements and corresponding healthcare policies that put even more people at risk.
Another mental shortcut to be aware of is something called familiarity bias, which means that we are more likely to trust or believe something we recognize or have seen or heard before. That's one of the ways advertisements work. Familiarity with a particular brand, like Nescafe for example, increases the likelihood you will reach for a jar of Nescafe next time you run out of coffee. This bias also makes us particularly vulnerable to false information spread by bots — the more we see or hear certain narratives the more likely we are to believe them.
How can we overcome our cognitive biases?
Being aware of them is the first important step. The next step is understanding the opposing beliefs. If you think that coffee is healthy, why not look for the studies that argue against this point of view? How do they support the opposite? Maybe, their arguments are also reasonable and worth considering. Looking at facts from both sides of the discussion helps us to avoid motivated reasoning and make more informed decisions.
Vocabulary