Think Like a Metaliterate Researcher:
Examine how you feel about the information presented and how this impacts your response. (A, M)
We all have our own backgrounds and perspectives that influence how we feel about certain topics. The ability of our feelings and beliefs to skew our interpretation of information is called bias. While it is a good practice to assess the bias of the creator of the information, it is equally important to assess your own inherent biases as a researcher and consumer of information.
When someone creates information, it is created for a reason. Academic authors normally create information in the course of their research, to advance knowledge in their fields. Politicians often create information in order to persuade others to support them. As a student you may create information to fulfill course requirements, to communicate with friends and family, or to promote an important cause. Considering why information was originally created and how that perspective might affect the content of the source is a vital step in assessing its credibility.
When you are conducting research on a topic, your bias can kick in without you even being aware that it is happening. Confirmation bias refers our tendency to automatically believe information that conforms to our existing opinions or beliefs, and to resist or avoid facts that say otherwise.This psychological process occurs partly due to the fact that it takes extra effort for your brain to reject and correct something it had previously filed away as true (Gilbert 112).
For example, if you are a lifelong vegetarian and you come across an article in your newsfeed about the health benefits of vegetarianism, you are likely to believe it without much further investigation. If you were to come across an article praising the benefits of a meat-centric diet, you would probably be more reluctant to read it or accept it as the truth.
While a lot of this happens subconsciously, metaliterate awareness of the affective domain, or how you feel about what you are learning, can help you check your own biases. Remember the individual from the previous tile who felt very strongly about a particular issue?
While strong emotions and beliefs can often motivate you to learn more about a topic, they can also cloud your judgement when it comes to looking at a topic objectively. We all have inherent biases, but being aware of your feelings about a topic can help you look past your biases to more clearly evaluate the facts. By acknowledging your existing beliefs you can be more deliberate about finding sources that represent all sides of an issue.
- How do I feel about the topic I am researching?
- Have I approached my research question with any preconceptions about the answers I was hoping to find, or have I approached it with an open mind?
- How do I respond to the information I encounter? Do I carefully evaluate all information sources, whether I agree with them or not?
- Do I ask critical questions to challenge my own biases, those of others, and the biases that may be present in the content I discover?
Over the course of a day, pay attention to what information you are getting and where you are getting it from. At the end of the day, reflect on the following questions:
- What information did I get about what topics? Where did I get it? Is it important? Did I miss other information I wish I had spent time learning?
- Did the information advance my knowledge about a subject in a significant way or did it just record tentative or incremental information that seem likely not to be meaningful?
- Did the information tell me something important, fundamentally new, something that gave me a new understanding, or did it merely give details that reinforced what I already understood?
- Did I learn something about a topic that I am most concerned about or that I consider important?
Record your observations using the the Bias & Belief worksheet.