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 experince 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.
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” using a metaphor.
- Confirmation Bias / Social Filter / 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.
- Bubble Bias: A term I am coining to broadly describe all the above concepts with one term. Bubble bias doesn’t just pertain to a personal bubble or how we filter information as individuals, but to how all the related phenomena affect society as individuals and collectives, how groups share bubbles, and how bubbles relate to interpersonal relationships in general.
Cognition: How Your Mind Can Amaze and Betray You – Crash Course Psychology #15.
In conversation and in culture people tend to “live in their own ideological bubbles” so to speak. This bubble creates a unique reference frame based on ideology and experince, and it also creates a filter that filters out experiences that don’t fit within the bubble.
- For example, an Elvis fan might live in a bubble where “Elvis is king”, where anything bad said 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 the ideal cuisine.
- Or, a progressive liberal might live in a bubble where Apple and Tesla were 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.
- Or, a Religious-Right Tea Party Republican might live in a bubble where Obama and Clinton are the greatest evil, all social programs are just flat out Communist, and the true role of government is only to enforce Christian values.
- Or, an Xbox fan might filter out information about Playstation, downplay PC gaming, and seek out good information about Microsoft. Etc, etc, etc.
These bubbles are created by experince as experienced through our personal and cultural filter. Here, bubble isn’t tangible, it is only a name that can be given to the reality we experince as it is shaped by the implicit and explicit cognitive bias we form as part of our natural cognitive process.
Our bubbles have gravity (often seemingly like they are seeking to be reinforced via confirmation bias rather than to be expanded via open-mindedness), but they aren’t static.
Bubbles are constantly evolving based on new experince. That means our daily experince: “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 just created by our own thoughts, they are reinforced constantly by self-learning, our social relationships, and our culture (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).
These bubbles occur on a few different levels. There is a “space bubble” that lets you filter-in-and-out other conversations around you at a crowded restaurant (I love my friends! When we are together its like the world disappears!), then there is a group bubble that lets you filter in your group and out other groups (we are literally the coolest group here!), then there is a venue bubble which lets you be aware of the venue (Generic sports bar for the win!), then maybe a part of town bubble (go Second District!), a town bubble (go home team!), a state bubble (go X state!), a nation bubble (USA! USA!), etc.
The people in your in-bubble empower and affect you, the people outside your bubble fade away from your existence… but this is a problem! If we know all bubbles can affect other bubbles, but confirmation bias and bubble filters provide resistance, then we can see clearly the problem that has gripped us here in 2016, “we are less likely to experince diversity and expand our bubble because we seek those who agree with our bubble bias”!
Our bubbles paint our frame of reference. Imagine a window in a given bubble. When you look through this window (this lens, this frame) everything you see is colored by your bubble (you have heard of the term “rose tinted glasses”, this is similar). That sort of thing can help us in a million different ways, but when paired with the aforementioned confirmation and filter bias, we start down a slippery slope.
Things that don’t fit with our bubble are filtered through our frame. If something really doesn’t fit, or makes us angry (like Superman and Kryptonite, or Republicans and climate change arguments) it is filtered out. Now 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. Then gravity pulls together bubbles that share a worldview and alienate other groups of bubbles.
The problem is, in our information age, our culture-in-action (especially our “news media” and political party system) isn’t promoting diversity of bubbles or truth at all costs, it is pushing ad revenue and short-term political benefit.
The click-and-dollar 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 (call it a Fox Feedback loop, a Facebook Feedback loop, a Google Feedback loop, a whatever… playing scapegoat won’t do us much good, it is a human advent at the root and our technology at its worst only caters to the need). This reinforces bubbles, this ensures time-on-site, ad rev, and clicks. This ensures shares and likes. This, creates a toxic Fox News vs. NBC “red-team blue-team” “clearly defined enemy” political bubbles.
In politics, we then get a tricky situation. We get people in a “progressive liberal bubble” only seeking out “progressive liberal views” via filters and confirmation bias, this reinforces their bubble and alienates them from the position of those in other competing bubbles. Do this over a decade, where “alt-right bubbler” sees only alt-right information and where “Fox bubbler” sees on Fox information, and “NBC bubbler” sees only NBC, and pretty soon we have people with world views so completely disconnected from each other there can hardly be any communication or cross-bubble understanding.
“I can’t even entertain red bubble. Jesus Henry, you know all red bubblers are crazy!” “We need to make this nation real and great again like real blue bubble Americans!”
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 penetrate 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.
- Everything depends on frame of reference. Literally, 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 acknowledge from within your bubble. This creates a sort of social alienation that is great from crushing souls, manipulation, and starting revolutions, but isn’t awesome for “the direction everyone is going” where they can’t “communicate or understand people in other bubbles” or “information that doesn’t fit with their world view”.
TIP: To be clear, every entity has its own bubble (its own culture). Thus, every in-group to which one can belong helps shape an individuals bubble, frame, and allegiances.
SOLUTION: Every entity has to play their part. Is X agency actually part of the problem? Is their bubble bias causing them to favor ideology over 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 “internet”. Thus my advice: Search and Social Media is like an extension of our real social 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 a 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. Liberty and freedom are paramount, 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.
Confirmation Bias and Politics.