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30-60 minutes
  • Journalism
  • 6-12

  1. Review the information below on confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. For additional background, you may wish to read these brief articles:
  2. Tell students that today they’ll be focusing on how confirmation bias and motivated reasoning affects our engagement with information online.
  3. Have students read the “Psychology Today” article about confirmation bias. As a class, define confirmation bias. Be sure your definition includes the fact that it a natural tendency in everyone, not any one group, and that it applies to many areas of daily life.
  4. Discuss the article’s suggestions for counteracting confirmation bias: being curious, seeking out different opinions and being conscious of your thinking process. Do you think these can work?
  5. Explain that many psychologists pair confirmation bias with a phenomenon called motivated reasoning. This describes our tendency to evaluate information based on the outcome we want to reach. In other words, if I love sleeping in on the weekends and I read a study about the negative effects of sleeping in on the weekend, I am more likely to try to find reasons to discount the study’s conclusion. If I don’t like sleeping in and read the same study, I’m more likely to think it presents strong evidence. We weigh information with our thumb on the scale to try and get the outcome to match up with our beliefs.
  6. Ask for a show of hands: How many students think school should start later? Earlier? Divide students into pro- and anti- groups. Distribute the school start times articles worksheet, then discuss their answers.

  1. Was it easier to find reasons that supported your position or the opposite one?
  2. Did you think one article was more persuasive than the other? Why? Was it the one that supported your position or the opposite view?
  3. Have you ever changed your mind on an issue or topic that you felt passionately about? If so, what was it, and why did you change your mind? If not, can you think of an issue you might be persuaded to change your mind about? What would it take?
  4. How might thinking about confirmation bias and motivated reasoning change your own daily online habits?
  5. How are these concepts related to the problems of junk news and misinformation online? People are more likely to believe and share things that reinforce existing beliefs and may fail to see that information is flawed when they want it to be true.

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