Understanding “Bubble Bias.”
Confirmation Bias, Framing, Filter Bubbles, Social Bias, Neuroplasticity, and the Effects of These on Culture and Social Interactions in the Information Age
We explain how experience and social interactions shape our frame of reference and create ideological bubbles, and how this creates confirmation bias and “bubble filters” that reinforce these bubbles.
Definitions Related to Ideological Bubbles
First, some definitions related to these social science terms:
- Frame of Reference: Our cognitive frame through which we view our external environment and internal reality in general. Our perspective AKA our world view.
- Framing: Constructing a message for the purposes of penetrating a bubble and shaping a world view. A way to navigate around bias, bubbles, and filters. Can use real or counterfeit information.
- Cognitive Bias: An explicit or implicit preference for or against. Our whole neurological system can be seen as a web of preferences for or against. Everyone has bias.
- Ideological Bubble: Everything that shapes our worldview described as “a bubble”, speaking metaphorically.
- Confirmation Bias, Social Filter, and Bubble Filter: Our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. Confirmation bias specifically is a name for the bias we form toward information that fits our worldview.
- Sphere of Influence: The reach and influence our own ideas have on others.
- Programing and Deprograming: The ability of one’s ideology or the ideology of others to be “programed” (to have ideas, concepts, emotions, and other ideologies anchored to it).
- Anchoring: The concept of attaching an idea or emotion to something.
- The Backfire Effect is a name for the finding that, given evidence against their beliefs, people can reject the evidence and believe even more strongly.
- Bubble Bias: This is a term I am coining to include all the above concepts in a single term. Bubble bias doesn’t just pertain to a personal bubble or how we filter information as individuals, but to the way all the related phenomena affect society as people and collectives, the way people share bubbles (in proximity via conversational or other bubbles, and at distances via loyalty and solidarity, perhaps per-issue), the way groups share bubbles, and the way bubbles relate to interpersonal relationships in general.
HALF-JOKING: Put the above together, and what do you get? An oddly un-winnable argument with your uncle at Thanksgiving about whether or not the sitting President of the United States is a Muslim from Kenya? Something like that, right? There has got to be a workaround here, but I don’t think we have gotten to that point yet as a collective. I’m sure the key is in truth and facts with a respect for differing opinions, as sure as Plato was, but there are a few more unknown puzzle pieces here. That much is clear.
HAVE YOU SEEN MY KEYS? As noted, I don’t know the solution to implicit problems of what is being described here. that said, it is likely that: Part of “the key” lies in understanding how we define labels and how we identify with and anchor emotions and meaning to those labels (see a conversation on “giving names to things” and “identity politics”). Another key is principled fact-telling and journalism. Another key is in the economics of words. Another key is in PR and Rhetoric. Another key is, to cite Plato again, balancing the powers (not just in government; but generally as a metaphor) via a system of just laws based on principled morals and ethics. So, in the terms of Aristotle and Plato, the key is in “Rhetoric and the Republic” (and Politics and Ethics).
Cognition: How Your Mind Can Amaze and Betray You – Crash Course Psychology #15.
Existing in a Ideological Bubble
In conversation and culture, people tend to “live in their own ideological bubbles.” These bubbles create a unique reference frame based on ideology and experience, and they also create a filter that excludes experiences that don’t fit within the bubble. One person can have several bubbles.
- For example, an Elvis fan might live in a bubble where “Elvis is King,” where anything negative about Elvis is tuned out or colored with a pro-Elvis bias, where crushed velvet is the pinnacle of fashion, and where fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are an ideal cuisine.
- A progressive liberal Democrat might live in a bubble where Apple and Tesla are the ideal companies, all social programs are inherently good, and all headlines on social media are a backhanded eye-roll regarding the utter stupidity of the opposition party.
- A Religious-Right Republican might live in a bubble where Obama and Clinton are great evils, all social programs are Communist-leaning, and the true role of government is to enforce Christian values.
- An Xbox fan might filter out information about Playstation, downplay PC gaming, and seek out good information about Microsoft. Etc, etc, etc.
Aspects and Properties of Ideological Bubbles
These bubbles are created by experience as experienced through our personal and cultural filter. Here, the bubble isn’t tangible; it is only a name that can be given to the reality we experience as it is shaped by the implicit and explicit cognitive bias we form as part of our cognitive process.
Our bubbles have gravity. They seem to lead us to seek reinforcement and confirmation rather than to be expanded via open-mindedness, but they aren’t static.
Bubbles evolve based on new experience. That means our daily experiences of “who we talk to,” “what we watch,” and “how we use search and social media” affect what our bubbles look like. Thus, these ideological bubbles in which we live aren’t created exclusively by our thoughts; they are reinforced by our learning, our social relationships, and our culture. We learn through our interactions with those with whom we share bubbles, with whom we share aspects of bubbles, and to some extent those with whom we share little at all.
Bubbles occur on different levels. There is a “space bubble” that lets you filter-in-and-out other conversations around you at a crowded restaurant. (When we are together its as though the world disappears!) There is a group bubble that enables you to filter in your group and out other groups. (We are the coolest group here!) There is a venue bubble which lets you be aware of the place. (Our sports bar for the win!) Maybe some people are part of town bubble. (Go District!) People may be part of a town bubble (Go home team!), a state bubble (Go state!), or a nation bubble (USA! USA!).
The people in your in-bubble empower and affect you, the people outside your bubble may fade away from your existence. This is a problem! We know all bubbles can affect other bubbles, but confirmation bias and bubble filters provide resistance. If we acknowledge this, we can see the problem that has gripped us today more clearly. “We are less likely to experience diversity and expand our bubble when we seek those who agree with our bubble bias.” It is important to listen to people with other biases.
Our bubbles paint our frame of reference. Imagine a window in a given bubble. When you look through this window, lens, or frame, everything you see is colored by your bubble. You have heard of the term “rose tinted glasses.” This is similar. Reaching outside our bubbles can help us in a million different ways. When we only see confirmation and filter bias, we start down a slippery slope.
Things that don’t fit in our bubble are filtered through our frame. If something doesn’t fit or makes us angry, it is filtered out. This is how we get “filter bias,” “confirmation bias,” and general “bubble bias” in action working not to expand minds and diversify bubbles, but to reinforce bias and create closed minds and bias bubbles. Gravity pulls bubbles that share a worldview together and alienates other groups of bubbles.
In our information age, our culture-in-action, especially our “news media” and political party system, does not promote diversity of bubbles or truth; it pushes ad revenue and short-term popularity, which enhances ad revenue.
The click-bait seeking, the fundraiser-and-vote seeking, leads to people pleasing, and the best way to please a person is to create a feedback loop where they are constantly spoon-fed exactly what they are looking for. You can call it a Fox Feedback loop, a Facebook Feedback loop, a Google Feedback loop, etc. Finding a scapegoat won’t do us much good. It is a human quality at the root and our technology caters to the need at its worst. This reinforces bubbles, ensures time-on-site, ad revenue, and clicks. It ensures shares and likes. It creates a toxic opposition of Fox News vs. NBC, a “red-team blue-team,” and a”clearly defined enemy” in political bubbles.
We get people in a “progressive liberal bubble” only paying attention to “progressive liberal views” via filters and confirmation bias. This reinforces their bubble and alienates them from the position of those in other opinion bubbles. Over time, you create a situation where an”alt-right bubbler” sees only alt-right information, where “Fox bubbler” sees only Fox information, an “NBC bubbler” sees only NBC. Pretty soon we create a world of people with world views so completely disconnected from each other that there is hardly any communication or cross-bubble understanding.
“I can’t even entertain and include the red bubble. Henry, you know all red bubblers are crazy!”
The negative implications of this are endless. What of a bubble that is anti-fact? What of a bubble that sees another type of bubble as the enemy? What if a certain type of bubble is easy to infect with conspiracy theories and propaganda? What if a bubble assumes “all mainstream media is a lie?” What if a bubble learns to block out other bubbles? What if one bubble decides to declare civil war against the other?
This endless and elusive subject deserves its own book, but just calling awareness to it is a good start.
Consider the following natural and social science which relates to the conversation:
- Our brains are constantly changing (neuroplasticity). On a fundamental level, we create our own realities.
- Our whole cognitive process is a system of bias.
- Humans are naturally social creatures.
- Humans are naturally compassionate and selfish, and either quality can be fostered.
- People can’t agree on “left or right.” We saw this clearly in WWII and at many other times.
- Everything depends on frame of reference. Our frame determines how we see the world.
- It a very effective social tactic to “freeze out” those you want to punish socially. Here “freeze out” means not to acknowledge them from within your bubble. This creates a social alienation that is great for crushing souls, manipulation, and starting revolutions. It negatively impacts “the direction everyone is going” when they can’t “communicate or understand people in other bubbles” or “information that doesn’t fit with their world view.”
TIP: Every entity has its own bubble and its own culture. Thus, every in-group to which you can belong helps shape your bubble, frame, and allegiances.
SOLUTION: Every entity has to play their part. Is X agency part of the problem? Is their bubble bias causing them to favor ideology over the law? It is hard to say. Is the media doing this? Who can tell? Are politicians doing this? How about corporations? Is there a “social responsibility”? Those aren’t my realms. My realm is the “internet.” Thus my bias is to use it. The “search” function and Social Media are extensions of our life. We can only seek things from within our frame of understanding. If algorithms don’t help to introduce new ideas into our bubble, we could get “locked” into our current state, closed off to certain types of information. This will only lead to further divide people who are clearly doing everything they can to seek truth and connect. Does the father have a responsibility to his children? I say yes, but that doesn’t mean you give into your children’s whims and let them eat cake for every meal just because it is in your short term interest. Liberty and freedom are paramount, buy they need to be tempered with logic and reason.
Confirmation Bias and Politics.