Misinformation and Bias: Additional Perspectives

From the desk of contributor Linda M. Rio, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist – Pituitary World News editor, J D Faccinetti, recently published an article that hit a nerve with me. I called him to let him know how important I thought his words and the links he provided were to not just pituitary patients but to all adults in today’s world. This is such an important issue he asked me to provide some additional thoughts from a mental health perspective.

In reading JD’s article, I had a flashback to one of my first college courses, Psychology 101. In this class, we did an exercise that probably almost all high school and college students (maybe younger nowadays) have done. The professor asked everyone in the class to stand in a line around the room. He then whispered a short phrase in the ear of the first student. The directive was to then have each person, in turn, whisper what they had heard into the ear of the next person in line, then the next until every classmate had heard the phrase. The final person was then asked to say out loud the phrase they had heard. The first person then said what the original phrase was they’d heard from the professor. We were all stunned by the difference between the first and last! This exercise has been replicated innumerable times all resulting in mild to dramatic changes to the original message. So, what is the relevance here? Whether it be in a classroom, high school campus, office water cooler, or internet social media the result is the same. Even well-meaning folks can spread misinformation or messages they think are correct but, in fact, are a faint version of the original.

In an age where any message can be spread to millions and more and in an instant the results can range from annoying to deadly.

While going through school to become a therapist we were drilled with information and exercises about identifying our own prejudices, biases, ways of thinking and viewing the world. As students, we initially denied having any bias. “Not I,” said most of us, not wanting to appear unable to perform our duties of working with all types of people and problems. Our professors and supervisors challenged this and made us challenge ourselves to eventually see that we all have biases. Each and every person has a unique lens through which we view the world. This lens is colored by every life experience, every person, every place we encounter. A bias may be as simple as having a dislike for German Shepheard dogs. If you were bitten as a young child, of course, you’d be much more fearful of this breed, perhaps of all dogs.

But we have all been “bitten” by something or someone. It can be as simple as children overhearing parents or other adults who begin to shape our perceptions and opinions. Most of us start our pre-teen years pretty much having the same values, opinions, political, religious, and other ideas that originated from our family of origin (term used to denote the parents/caregivers and siblings that surrounded us as children). Somewhere in adolescence we typically begin to stretch beyond solely what we learned in childhood and begin to question, even rebel. Hopefully, following the somewhat tumultuous teen years, we settle down a bit and come into knowing and having our own adult values, opinions, thoughts, etc. For some, this is a calculated evaluation of all that one has learned along with a painful examination of the pros and cons of all major positions about life. Yeah, right. Unless you are a philosophy major or particularly introspective thinker then things probably just happened. Life gets busy. There are many distractions (especially in today’s world) and we fall into patterns of making quick judgments to move on to the next most pressing thing.

None of us can know all there is to know about how to evaluate the veracity of every piece of information we are exposed to in today’s world of mass inundation of information. And, when there is physical, emotional, spiritual, relationship pain involved we are left with less resilience to react thoughtfully. People in pain want the pain to go away. People fearful want to feel safe. People who feel helpless want to find something to give them a sense of power and control. So, what to do in a world bombarding us with messages about the next great cure, or how to “fix” an ailment, or a wonder supplement or, or, or?

Well, as JD’s article presents, many of us react, respond without thinking things through. We see a headline or some photoshopped picture on social media and instantly believe…partly due to just not thinking, and partly because of wanting to believe, or not believe. Our instant responses are based upon often outdated or even childish beliefs that we haven’t bothered to update. And if we have pain or fear the more primitive parts of our brains react very quickly often by bypassing the more rational, adult pre-frontal cortex portion of our brain. In other words, we react rather than act.

So, what can be done? Stop. Slow it down. Breathe.

This sounds incredibly simple but it does work amazingly well to reset the brain and the body. When we see images or hear things that are alarming or exciting a burst of cortisol (pituitary patients know about this hormone) occurs. In an overly simplified explanation, cortisol is part of the body’s endocrine system that is our alarm. And, when we react due to the alarm going off, we cannot make clear, precise, thoughtful decisions, we only react. But it is possible to reset the system.

Make a rule for yourself to never press “send” without allowing at least 5 minutes. Make a rule to become hyper-aware of your body, especially tiny changes like a rise in your pulse rate, having sweaty palms, feeling flushed in the face, feeling the gut, muscles in the neck, jaw and back tighten. Knowing, really knowing your body and listening to what it has to say can help in a multitude of ways, one of which is to evaluate what information is credible, and what is bogus.

Make a rule always to know the source of information. None of us can be experts in everything, so we have to rely on organizations and resources we know to have a history of telling the truth and being accurate. Researching the background and training of a doctor you choose, then getting a second (or third) opinion can help you test if this is someone to trust. So-called “scientific studies” are sometimes flawed, not conducted to the highest standards. News media can cite “research” but it is always important to look for where the studies are published. Major professional journals have high standards for research.

Make a rule to seek-out opposing views. Purposely looking for information and/or arguments that are opposite can help you come to your own truth. There is almost always more than one way to see something and allowing multiple perspectives allows for a more diverse and interesting view.

Remember to remember that everyone else will not have this information nor follow these or similar “rules”. People make rash statements, spread misinformation, often have ulterior motives. Only you can take the time, slow your brain to then know what is best for you.


Our thanks to Linda M. Rio MA,  for providing this critical information and contributing to our publication. Read Linda’s past articles on PWN here and learn more about Linda by going to her website at www.lindamrio.com .



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