In my classroom, I always warn students about cognitive biases that could affect them as students and scientists, and one in particular, anchoring bias, is an incredibly prevalent problem in the modern social landscape. Anchoring Bias, or simply anchoring, is when someone tends to “anchor” themself to the first piece of information they hear, making a decision off of the one (and typically only) source.
For some context, imagine a student browsing Facebook or some other social media of choice and seeing an article about how we eat at least eight spiders per year (not true, by the way). Even though, at our fingertips, we have the power to dispel or confirm almost any statement we hear, we don’t tend to do this. Instead, a more common reaction is to simply like, upvote, and share in a blind state of misinformation.
Why do we not bother to check out every claim we see? Is there just too much information out there, or are we too implicitly trusting of our social media sites? Is it just easier to look at one thing, and if it conforms to my beliefs, run with it (confirmation bias)? Or, is it that participating in social media makes us feel good, or feel at least something, from disgust (“eww, we eat that many spiders?!”) to a feeling elation after looking at a cute animal (“OMG look at this baby hippo! It’s #adorbs #petmaterial”). Regardless of the level of truth of the information we are spreading, participating in social media makes us feel connected, so perhaps this is partially why we don’t really care what’s being read/shared, we just want to share stories/articles/memes with others.
It is unclear why exactly we don’t bother to check out each claim, but I imagine the answer addresses many of the questions posited here. However, there is one way to help combat this problem, and that is to remind students to be skeptical, to not rely so much on the first answer you encounter, and to question “scientific fun facts” they find on Facebook; while they may be fun, they may be entirely untrue, making them just funny sentences. Reminding others that the first thing you see on the internet may not be true seems trivial, but sometimes we really need these reminders.