Why your brain has inbuilt biases

Are humans the main cause of global warming? A poll by the Pew Research Centre shows that 70% of liberal Democrats in the US think so. Yet only 15% of conservative Republicans do. Why is this? Because of their biases.

Their opponents think it’s because they’re in the pocket of the fossil fuel lobby. But there’s a simpler, psychological explanation. And that is biases. We are all, not just Republicans, hardwired to resist facts that challenge our existing beliefs and sense of identity. We like to think we use our powers of reason for analytical purposes. But due to biases this simply doesn’t happen. Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber argue in their book, The Enigma of Reason that:

reasoning evolved among hunter-gatherers.

The purpose was not as a guide to better decision-making. But as a way of inducing greater cooperation, of reinforcing group opinions.

What is reason?

We should view whole idea of reason from the point of view of how humans actually go about solving problems. Instead of trying to shoehorn legacy ideas from ancient Greece into the evidence. Mercier and Sperber should allow the evidence to speak for itself. Reasoning is a collective and argumentative activity. Which is why confirmation bias is a feature rather than a bug.

The redefinition of reason in The Enigma of Reason should force scientists and philosophers to rethink their approaches. Especially those that relate to studying human problem solving and communication. The idea of the solitary solipsist philosopher using pure reason to solve abstract problems is dead. After all they need input from others, consideration of biases and their own emotions. Humans are social primates. And we have to understand ourselves as such, in our social context, at all times.

Slaves to our biases

So it proves time and again in psychological experiments. In one post-election study, over a third of Obama supporters was asked to hear the reasons other voters gave for backing his opponent, said the experience:

hurt, literally

It was physical. We are all slaves, it would seem, to our inherited biases and our partisan brain.

What do you think? Why not leave a comment below?

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

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