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TRAN: Strong opinions require reflection, thoughtfulness before voicing

Column: Hung Up

When forming opinions, it is important to be deliberate with and hear from various perspectives.  – Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko / Unsplash

"You only get one chance to make a first impression." I think it is safe to say everyone has heard of the importance of a good first impression. Yet we also all hear about the necessity of listening to all sides of an argument before forming an opinion or making a decision. But how many people actually do that? Our first impression of a story is the most impactful, and then, our further judgments are based on those thoughts, no matter how one-sided they might appear.

There are three natural cognitive factors that contribute to the first impression being so impactful: the primacy effect, anchoring and confirmation bias. In essence, primacy is the human disposition to remember the first pieces of information better than the following ones. You can probably remember the first item on your grocery list better than something in the middle.

Anchoring is when we use something (usually the first piece of information received) as a reference point when comparing it to something else. If you see that a sandwich is $5, you may think that it is way too expensive and pass on it. But if you just walked by a sign advertising a $10 hamburger, then the sandwich seems like a much better deal.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for and interpret information in order to support your existing beliefs. If you think nuclear power is a dangerous source of energy, you may ignore articles about its safety and efficiency. Or you may be more inclined to listen more to wind and solar proposals as alternatives to nuclear energy.

Combined, these all make it difficult for us to change our minds as we see topics through the lens of what we were first exposed to. We might even be subconsciously reluctant to switch as we defend those initial viewpoints while ignoring evidence to the contrary.

This has been highlighted in internet rabbit holes, especially with social media. A famous example is Kyrie Irving believing that the Earth is flat as he thought of the idea and then found evidence supporting it and voiced it promptly. More broadly, these factors are relevant to so many of the discussions in politics that have been proven and should have been settled years ago (for example, global warming), but many people are rooted in their old views.

Many people vote solely based on party lines, year after year, without knowing what the candidates stand for or even who they are. It is true that parties generally have a predictable stance surrounding various issues, but these change over time. After four, eight or even just two years, we need to ensure that candidates are actually up to date and support the issues that are important to you.

The recent New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) vote is another example of why we should be wary of the first introduction to a topic. Many students vote "yes" after just a 30-second spiel from a representative of the organization campaigning. While it is relatively unimportant (and I am not saying you should or should not have voted), how many of those who did vote "yes" know of anything the organization has really done beyond what they claimed in those few sentences?

Less important — though possibly more relevant — is the idea of sales, especially with the upcoming holiday season. Often, stores advertise discounted prices that are not actually cheaper than the usual price, so something that is part of a holiday sale for 40 percent off list price may be 40 percent at every other time of the year, meaning that the discounted price is practically the regular price.

The item may be worth it either way, but do not buy it just for apparently large savings. A quick price tracker search can verify if it is actually a sale with just a few seconds of effort.

Of course, this topic is most relevant to everyday discussions and news. Sometimes people are unintentionally misleading such as when you hear someone talk about MSG causing cancer. Rather than avoiding it in the future simply based on word of mouth, you can do a quick search to see if it is actually true and worth avoiding. You may be annoyed by a loud and disruptive protest, making you against the issue before truly learning what it is about.

While it may be nearly impossible to change human nature, we can change our behavior when we are aware of our mistakes, even if they arise on a subconscious level. If we were more open to the second impression and avoiding information at face value, we may be less prone to supporting outdated ideas and instead be able to move past arguments that were started (and should have been settled) decades ago.

Tyler Tran is a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. His column, "Hung Up," runs on alternative Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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