By Jordan Renfroe, Staff Writer —
Lane Wilkinson, a UC Foundation professor and director of library instruction, is using decades of philosophy experience to conduct research on how students decide what information and sources to trust while learning.
After being inspired by the way information has spread throughout the most recent political situations, Wilkinson began making formulas for how the brain reacts upon looking at information. He found that there is a high likelihood that prior knowledge affects what students will or will not believe when browsing the internet.
“We all have this sort of processes by which we decide, things we are going to believe, disbelieve, things we are going to trust,” said Wilkinson. “I look at the mental processes by which we choose what to trust, and what we should do. I look at how we are doing it and how we should be doing it.”
Wilkinson explained how prior beliefs affect observations with an experiment. During the experiment, Wilkinson asked people of different party affiliations whether they thought Barack Obama’s or Donald Trump’s inauguration had more attendees after being shown pictures of both. The results ruled in Obama’s favor, but only when the subjects weren’t told which picture belonged to which president.
When the pictures were then labeled, Trump supporters almost always picked Obama’s as the smaller side.
“Even when they were told they were wrong, they actually argued more,” Wilkinson said. “It’s interesting the way people tend to double down when they might be wrong.”
Wilkinson says that his theory can explain individuals how likely different individuals are to believe something based off of other things that they know. He is working on urging others to possess a good balance between skepticism, and acceptance of information.
“There has to be a balance where you aren’t overly skeptic, and you aren’t overly gullible,” said Wilkinson. “Trying to find that balance is kind of where I’ve been looking.”