One screen, two movies

Cartoonist Scott Adams is also a trained hypnotist. From observing human bias, he created the concept of “one screen, two movies”. Two people may see the same event, but interpret it completely differently. The reason is one experiences confirmation bias, while the other experiences cognitive dissonance.


Confirmation bias is interpreting information in a way that supports existing beliefs. In contrast, cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort when real-world evidence conflicts with existing beliefs. Evidence is then re-interpreted to remove discomfort.


For example, in 1954, a religious cult in Chicago prophesized the end of the world on December 21. The day came and went. Cult members were stunned. But then the cult received a divine message: they “had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.”


…the entire exercise of Vipassana meditation is to learn the difference between fiction and reality, what is real and what is just stories that we invent and construct in our own minds. Almost 99% you realize is just stories in our minds. This is also true of history. Most people, they just get overwhelmed by the religious stories, by the nationalist stories, by the economic stories of the day, and they take these stories to be the reality.

-Yuval Noah Harari


Everyone else is biased

The problem is most people don’t realize they’re biased. A study of 600 Americans found that 85% believed they were less biased than average. Another study found that smart people tended to be more biased.


Currently, society is biased towards liberals. A study of 7,000 professors across the United States found that only 8% of those who were registered voters were Republicans. Similarly, a survey of 450 financial reporters found that only 4% of them were conservatives.


This bias has real-world consequences. For example, 39% of liberals and 13% of conservatives believed that police killed more than 1,000 unarmed black men in 2019. According to the Washington Post’s database of police shootings, the true number was 27.


In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left-wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas, even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species.

-Michael Bloomberg


Personal notes

To understand the left-wing perspective, I read the New York Times and Economist. To understand the right, I read Breitbart News and Zero Hedge.


To debias myself, I follow 3 pieces of advice:


The test of a first-rate intelligence is to hold two ideas in our mind at the same time and still retain the capacity to function. You must, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless, yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible”, come true.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald


Adams S. (2017, February 12). Good example of our two-movie reality. Scott Adams Says.


Hart W et al. (2009). Feeling validated versus being correct: A meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychol Bull. 135(4): 555–588.


Festinger L, Riecken HW, Schachter S. (1956). When prophecy fails. University of Minnesota Press.


Everyone else is biased

Scopelliti I et al. (2015). Bias blind spot: Structure, measurement, and consequences. Management Science. 61(10): 2468–2486.


West RF, Meserve RJ, Stanovich KE. (2012). Cognitive sophistication does not attenuate the bias blind spot. J Pers Soc Psychol. 103(3): 506–519.


Langbert M, Quain AJ, Klein DB. (2016). Faculty voter registration in economics, history, journalism, law, and psychology. Econ Journal Watch. 13(3): 422–451.


Call AC et al. (2020, March 2). Meet the press: Survey evidence on financial journalists as information intermediaries. SSRN.


Weaver DH, Willnat L, Wilhoit GC. (2018). The American journalist in the Digital Age: Another look at U.S. news people. Journalism Mass Communication Quarterly. 96(1): 101–130.


McCaffree K, Saide A. (2021). How informed are Americans about race and policing? Skeptic Research Center. CUPES-007.

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