unbiased reporting–an oxymoron!

memory_brainA detective asks an eye witness to tell what she saw. “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

The woman gives a careful accounting of what had just transpired. A man who had been across the street also relates what he had witnessed. However, there are subtle variations in their reports even though both try to recall and repeat what they had seen without any embellishments. Why didn’t their stories about what had happened only a few minutes earlier match up?

When something enters  our brain through any of our senses, the thought flows through and connects to a crowd of  ideas stored in our heads that are in any way connected. And every thought has an emotion connected to it, and these emotions color our perceptions of what we see. So, as quickly as we experience an event, our brain is sorting and connecting thoughts, smells, emotions, attitudes, etc. Our retellings will have been filtered through everything we’ve encountered (remembered or forgotten), through our belief systems, through our attitudes… Even the amount of sleep we had the night before can slant our version of what we observed. We take it in, run it through our filters, and it comes out colored with just a little bit of us.

Call it what you want–discernment, wisdom, bias, emotionalism–but you can’t call it unscientific. That’s how our brain works.

It’s all about connections.

And these connections apply subtle flavors to our attempts at unbiased reporting.

Originally published in January 2015
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