Everyone has an opinion about everything, but should we?

 

When someone asks for our opinion on an issue, is it all right to say “I don’t have one” or “It is not my business?”

It seems everyone has an opinion about everything, yet some topics are over discussed. I don’t know about you, but often I reach the saturation point and then I must tune out.

Of course here I am writing my opinion on opinions … is that an oxymoron?

According to the online dictionary, an opinion is “a view or judgment about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”

Perhaps the saturation is a result of the many platforms by which people can voice their opinions. There are multitudes of cable shows that bring people on air to evaluate political and social issues. There are talk radio shows and publications filled with opinion pieces. Social media outlets now contribute as well. Opinions abound on Facebook and Twitter. Of course, there is the Internet.

I read an opinion piece online about the importance of speaking your mind through social media platforms. The author stated the whole point of social media was to speak about your thoughts and feelings.

Often we think our opinions are well thought out, but that is not necessarily so.

What drives our view or judgment about something? I read that psychologists have discovered cognitive biases often shape our opinions. There is a long list of these biases such as present bias, confirmation bias, hindsight bias, negativity bias, halo effect, spotlight effect, loss aversion, self-serving bias, attentional bias, actor-observer bias, functional fixedness, anchoring bias, optimism bias, availability cascade, continued influence effect and courtesy bias.

How do cognitive biases shape our opinion? Here are a few examples. Anchoring bias causes us to favor the first facts we uncover. The halo effect causes people to base their opinion about a person’s character upon their overall impression of him or her. Researchers found good-looking people got higher character ratings. Functional fixedness makes us see objects working only one way.

Author Kendra Cherry describes many of these cognitive biases on a psychology website titled verywell.com. She states the actor-observer bias is “a tendency to attribute one’s own actions to external causes, like circumstances, while attributing other people’s behaviors to internal causes such as personal choices, behaviors and actions.” She explains this bias is more pronounced in circumstances where outcomes are negative.

The self-serving bias “attributes our successes to internal characteristics and places the blame for failures on outside forces.” I got an A on the test because I studied hard/ I got an F on the test because the teacher put too many question about things she did not cover in class.

An article in Psychology Today revealed the negativity bias is the reason insults stick in our brain. Therefore political smear campaigns have bigger impact than positive information reported on a candidate.

When something is repeated often, people soon believe it is true. This is the availability cascade. Perhaps this is why our opinion on political issues can be influenced by talking points.

What happens if the information on an incident or issue is proved false? Opinion can continue to be shaped by the false information due to the continued influence effect.

Now that we have considered the great, long string of cognitive biases that can contribute to the formation of an opinion lets go back to the beginning of the column. Maybe having an opinion about everything is not good use of time. Perhaps time well spent is separating fact from fiction via good research (beware of confirmation bias, only reading material that supports a preexisting belief) before forming an opinion worth sharing.