Opinions, Cognitive Bias And Conspiracy Theories In The 21st Century
Everyone has an opinion nowadays. Whether it regards politics or restaurants, someone is going to have something to say.
The 21st century forces us to formulate opinions quickly. God forbid if you’d want to take a second to do some research, ask around, and create your own conclusions about a topic. And don’t you dare blink- or else the internet will decide how you should think.
So, how do we go about forming opinions in the 21st century? Should we avoid social media, or allow it to draw us in like moths to a light? Additionally, how can we identify and avoid indulging in popular, but harmful, conspiracy theories?
It’s difficult to believe that society has no influence on the way we think and perceive the world. We are constantly surrounded and impacted by current events, intrusive advertisements and the opinions of others. So, how do we know if our opinion is truly ours, or if we were heavily influenced by the outside world?
How Does Society Influence Cognitive Bias?
You don’t have to be in a cult, or drink the Kool-Aid, to notice that you’re taking on other people’s opinions and outlooks.
As humans, we tend to jump on popular bandwagons. We don’t usually realize how we allow our discomfort with conflict to rule how we act, speak and think, but going against the ‘norm’ is not normal human behavior.
Thus, our opinions and cognitive biases are not always organic, and they are usually affected by our surrounding environments.
Take racism for example. Sometimes, you learn from your friends that it’s cool to pick on the only black boy in your class. Sometimes, they teach you a new, racist joke on the bus ride home. Other times, you receive positive rewards and laughter from your parents when you repeat that same joke at the dinner table.
It’s not like taste buds: you didn’t try racism and decide to have a second helping. And you weren’t born a racist. You observed your friends and parents liking racism, which made you want more.
We tend to gravitate towards opinions projected by those we love, spend our time with and admire. Then, we form a false consensus to validate these opinions. Society traps us in this endless cycle, and it’s about time that we break free.
Is Social Media Helping Or Hurting?
It’s difficult to say whether social media is completely helping or hurting the way we formulate opinions and cognitive biases.
I find that even though Google is in the palm of everyone’s hands, people still tend to avoid doing any research on a topic. They’d rather rush to social media to see what other people have to say about something, and if they like what they see, the share button is a quick click away.
Additionally, these behaviors can quickly lead to the spread of conspiracy theories. Some are pretty hilarious, such as the Safeguard Complex in North Dakota being related to the Illuminati. Others, such as the alt-right QAnon group claiming that Democrats are working to undermine Trump’s presidency, are pretty dangerous.
It makes you wonder whether Trump is a believer of this theory and thus has locked himself in the White House to protest Democrats and our democracy.
How Can I Avoid Leaching Onto Other People’s Opinions?
If you’re starting to worry that you have actually drunk the Kool-Aid, or at least took a sip, you should check out this article which outlines 50 different types of cognitive biases in the modern world.
No one is perfect, and you’re not expected to be right about something all of the time. It’s important to conduct your own research before formulating an opinion, and it’s even more important to utilize trusted sources.
Additionally, listening to other people’s opinions to increase your knowledge on a topic is not a bad thing. There are plenty of kind, compassionate and educated people in the world to learn from- just choose wisely. Listening to your cis, male neighbor, Chad, discuss what he thinks women should do with their bodies probably isn’t as reliable as listening to literally any woman speak on the matter.
Just remember, you don’t have to pull an opinion out of your ass just because someone asked you about a topic you don’t know much about. Just do your research.