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2014 The Bad Science Show - Melbourne School Shows & School Incursions

How To Read Minds (Confirmation Bias) 

"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true."

Soren Kierkegaard

*This resource is intended for use after viewing The Bad Science Show. Students should be reminded of the portion of the show the lesson relates to.

 

Purpose

Students should be able be able to define and identify confirmation bias. Students should be able to examine why all people sometimes maintain their beliefs in the face of information that proves them wrong.

 

Introduction

Confirmation Bias is a tendency to accept evidence that proves what we already believe while ignoring evidence that refutes what we believe.

In The Bad Science Show, Nicholas explored Project Alpha, a four year hoax in which two magicians, Steve Shaw and Mike Edwards, fooled a group of researchers at Washington University into believing they had psychic powers. 

The men appeared to bend spoons, read minds and blow electrical fuses. In reality, the men used simple magic tricks to create the illusion they had paranormal abilities. 

The scientists were fooled by Edwards and Shaw because they had a predisposition to believing in psychic powers. They ignored evidence that they were being fooled, including a direct intervention from magician and skeptic James Randi. 

In science, we should test our beliefs and preconceived notions instead of seeking to confirm them.

We should seek evidence we are wrong, not evidence that we are right.

Discussion

1) Why did the scientists of Project Alpha believe Mike Edwards and Steve Shaw were really psychic?

2) What could the scientists have done to combat their own confirmation bias?

 

3) What types of confirmation bias do YOU have?

 

(If the students can not point out their own biases, it is always fun to point out that not being aware of your own biases while finding them in others is actually a form of confirmation bias itself) 

Activity #1

Have the students watch the video above. Stop at 1:10. 

 

1) Ask the students to guess the rule. Have them explain their reasoning.

Play the rest of the video.

2) What can we learn from the video about our own beliefs?

3) How does this type of confirmation bias play a role in the news we consume on social media.

Activity #2

Invent a completely untrue rumour about a celebrity. Make sure it isn't cruel or mean spirited.

e.g.

Chris Hemsworth and Liam Hemsworth are the same person.

Research the celebrity's life looking for evidence that the fictional rumour is true. 

e.g.

Chris and Liam have never been in a film together, always grow beards at the same time and rarely touch each other in photos (the photoshopping is easier if they're not shown doing it.)

Does your rumour feel more believable now that you have found evidence supporting it?

How would counter this rumour if it was presented to you as fact?

After The Class

Invite students to test their own biases with these Harvard university tests.  The test is designed to help detect the biases that shape our thinking.

Further Reading

Facing History - Confirmation and Other Biases

 

Nicholas J. Johnson

2017

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