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Confirmation Bias Test - Scott Adams' Blog

Confirmation Bias Test

The Trayvon Martin shooting case is turning into the world’s biggest example of confirmation bias, starting with the shooting itself.

We now know that the shooter, Zimmerman, thought Martin fit the general description of the two men (young, male, African-American) who had been spotted robbing homes in the neighborhood. Martin’s hoody served as a partial disguise, which probably made Zimmerman’s confirmation bias go through the roof. My best guess is that everything Martin did up to his death, including the fight, contributed to Zimmerman’s confirmation bias that he was dealing with a dangerous hardened criminal.

On the flip side, Martin probably made up his mind quickly that Zimmerman was some sort of racist, bully, thug wannabe who was just looking for a fight. After all, what kind of guy gets out of his car and follows you down the street in the dark? The last thing that might occur to you is “Neighborhood Watch.”

When the story first broke, and the public had scant information, much of it incorrect, most of us jumped to an initial assumption. People who have had experiences with bullies and racists probably assumed Zimmerman fit the mold. Therefore, he must be prosecuted.

Others, most notably Geraldo Rivera, thought that a 6’3" guy dressing like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, with a black hoody, on a dark night, in a crime-riddled neighborhood, set the stage for a tragic misunderstanding.

My question to you is this: If you made up your mind about Zimmerman’s guilt when the story first broke, has the flood of new information changed your mind? Or has confirmation bias allowed the new information to harden the opinion you already had?

Have any of you changed your minds about Zimmerman’s guilt based on new information?

[Update: I’m no lawyer, so maybe someone can answer this question. Even if you believe Zimmerman’s bad judgement alone created the situation that resulted in a much larger guy sitting on his chest and punching his head with no indication it was going to stop anytime soon, isn’t it still “self defense” if he shoots the guy pounding his face? That’s a real question, not rhetorical. – Scott]