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Study Questions: Confirmation Bias

Gather into small groups of 4 or 5 (but no larger than that). 
Using "Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds" by Elizabeth Kolbert and "Spooking Yourself" by Karl Sherlock, discuss your responses to the following questions.  Someone in the group should volunteer to record the notes of your discussion to present to the class later.

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1. Breaking the Chain

A typical chain letter tries to convince the recipient to make copies of the letter and send it to other people, not only to keep the "chain" unbroken, but also to reap the rewards:  good luck if the task is completed by a certain time; bad luck if it is not.  (In the film, The Ring—as well as in its sequels—the concept of a chain letter has been adapted to the viewing of a cursed video.)

Have you ever participated in a chain letter or "chain" social media post?  Did you ever intentionally break the chain? Would you?  Why, or why not?

Even though, by law, chain letters are considered to be nothing more than a harmless nuisance, some countries (such as Australia) have made certain kinds of chain letters illegal, particularly if they involve the sending or receiving money or other exchangeable goods.  Should chain letters be illegal in this country?  Why, or why not?

2. Very Superstitious

Each of you should share with your peers a specific example of a good-luck charm or a bad-luck omen you're familiar with—either one of your own or someone else's that you have witnessed first-hand.  These can be a traditional superstition (such as cracking a mirror or throwing spilled salt over you shoulder) or something personal and nontraditional (such as, always checking under the bed, or using your lucky pen for the big test, etc.).  

Do you believe these charms or omens are real?  Have you avoided bad luck, or have you experienced good luck, because of them? How do you know whether they work?  What are your methods for determining their effectiveness? 

3. Conspiratorial Thinking

How is a superstition similar to a conspiracy theory? 

Compare any superstition (including one you may have already discussed) and any conspiracy theory you're familiar with (or interested in). Determine three ways in which confirmation bias explains them both.  Be prepared to paraphrase and/or quote the articles by Kolbert and Sherlock to support your arguments. 

Last Updated: 10/16/2017


Karl J Sherlock
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