On electoral maps, Democratic states are portrayed as blue.
Republican states are represented by red.
However, it appears the ardent supporters of both parties are only willing to see things in black and white.
With the proliferation of websites, the availability of personal social media platforms, and the narrow specialization of cable television news networks, people in the United States are increasingly seeking out information that only jibes with their vision of things.
A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center concluded liberals and conservatives turn to distinctly different outlets when they want to get news and information
Conservatives flock to Fox News. Liberals go to MSNBC, NPR, or The New York Times.
On the web, there is even more selection and far more extreme views to click on.
The Wall Street Journal has set up Blue Feed, Red Feed where you can see what articles Democratic supporters are posting about the 2016 presidential election right alongside the posts from Republican supporters.
This difference is politically stark, but two psychology experts told Healthline this confirmation bias is also eroding social skills and transforming the way people deal with each other.
It also brings up the question of whether our society can handle an information system where everyone gets to broadcast their point of view and publically display facts, or nonfacts, of their choosing.
“This is uncharted territory,” said Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It is truly an issue we need to deal with.”
The social ramifications
Molitor says this selective information seeking isn’t limited to politics, although that tends to be the most emotional.
It can also be observed when people are taking sides on education issues such as charter schools or parenting issues such as vaccinations.
“It’s a broader issue for society,” she told Healthline.
Besides creating underinformed or even ill-informed readers, Molitor says the confirmation bias phenomenon is also producing some worrisome social trends.
She said it can erode people’s ability to be sympathetic, to be tolerant, or to utilize their critical thinking skills.
“Often times there are no simple solutions,” she said.
She noted that if you turned in an essay paper in school or a project at work with only one source, your presentation would probably be rejected.
In addition, Molitor feels, this trend may impede people’s ability to nurture personal relationships.
If you can’t understand the other person’s feelings or point of view, there is a lesser chance a relationship will endure.
Elaine Ducharme, a board certified clinical psychologist in Connecticut, said the one-view trend is not only taking away people’s ability to compromise but also their desire to do so.
“You only see black and white when the world is actually gray,” she told Healthline.
Ducharme said that black-and-white rigidity is actually one of many symptoms of people with borderline personality disorder.
“It’s an unhealthy way to be,” she noted.
Ducharme added limiting oneself to only one side of a topic also can prevent the mind from expanding.
“You lose the possibility of growing in a positive way,” she said.
Molitor explained that the human brain is wired to reach conclusions, so it will naturally seek out conformity.
Viewing information and opinions on both sides of an issue is a way to fight that inclination.
Can society handle a new information age?
This one-side-only phenomenon brings up the question of whether society can handle an information system where everyone is a town crier.
This includes people and sites that deliberately post fake news items, including a phony story that President-elect Donald Trump actually won the popular vote over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
That item rose to the top of search charts for a short time and was viewed by millions of people.
Facebook and Google this week both dealt with this issue by implementing measures to restrict ad sales on fake news sites.
Ducharme and Molitor both said this flood of information from unlimited sources is a brave new world.
One that seems to be causing a multitude of problems.
“I don’t think we’re handling this very well,” said Ducharme.
One result is that instead of soothing people, the viewing of like-minded posts seems to make people angrier.
“It fuels the anxiety that maybe you’ve been wronged,” said Ducharme.
“People go to websites,” added Molitor, “to reinforce what they think they already know. Each side wants to prove the other side is wrong.”
Ducharme added that this constant information also deprives our brains of “quiet moments” where we can contemplate and figure things out.
“We get stuck in this one-sided entitlement,” she said.
It also feeds into the notion that everything we think and say needs to be made public.
“It has created a society where people feel every word they utter is profound,” Ducharme said.
She said society may need to rethink how information is presented on the internet.
Molitor suggests schools start teaching classes in civility as early as elementary school to counter the phenomenon.
Ducharme points to a treatment she uses with couples going through acrimonious divorces.
The psychologist makes them sit at a table together and discuss what they each want out of the separation. More times than not, it leads to a coming together and a somewhat amicable settlement.
“The only way that happens,” she said, “is if you listen to the other side.”