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.
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:
“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.” (Charlie Munger)
“Your first impulse should always be to find the evidence that disconfirms your most cherished beliefs and those of others. That is true science.” (Robert Greene)
“Truth is that which has predictive power.” (Naval Ravikant)
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. https://www.scottadamssays.com/2017/02/12/good-example-of-our-two-movie-reality/
Hart W et al. (2009). Feeling validated versus being correct: A meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychol Bull. 135(4): 555–588.
A meta-analysis of 67 studies with almost 8,000 participants found a preference for information that confirmed pre-existing attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors (effect size = 0.36)
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.
A study with 482 students found they exhibited a bias blind spot across 7 measures (effect size = 0.45), and they rated other students as more biased than themselves
Cognitive sophistication had a 10–26% correlation with composite blind spot score
Researchers concluded: “The bias blind spot arises, on this view, because we rely on behavioral information for evaluations of others, but on introspection for evaluations of ourselves. The biases of others are easily detected in their overt behaviors, but when we introspect we will largely fail to detect the unconscious processes that are the sources of our own biases”
Langbert M, Quain AJ, Klein DB. (2016). Faculty voter registration in economics, history, journalism, law, and psychology. Econ Journal Watch. 13(3): 422–451.
In 2006, a study of 7,243 professors across the United States found that 3,623 were registered Democrats vs. 314 Republicans
Call AC et al. (2020, March 2). Meet the press: Survey evidence on financial journalists as information intermediaries. SSRN. https://ssrn.com/abstract=3279453
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.
In 2013, a survey of 1,080 American journalists found that 50.2% were Independents, 28.1% were Democrats, and 7.1% were Republicans
McCaffree K, Saide A. (2021). How informed are Americans about race and policing? Skeptic Research Center. CUPES-007.
In 2020, a survey of 980 Americans found that 38.9% of liberals and 13.3% 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
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