Stephen Colbert got a lot of well-deserved laughs from his bit on “truthiness” — that is, the quality of seeming correct at a gut level, while being divorced from any factual evidence. If something feels right without actually being right, it’s truthy!
Well, it turns out that this notion isn’t just a humorous flight of fancy. There’s quite a bit of psychological analysis demonstrating that human beings are primed to accept information that reinforces our views, while filtering out information that challenges these views. It’s called “confirmation bias.” When you combine this innate psychological trait with a fractured news media that now permits us to choose sources of information perfectly calibrated to reflect our pre-existing perspectives, you begin to see why modern political discourse now seems less a contest of competing opinions and more a contest of competing conceptions of reality.
A study last year from the University of Maryland examined levels of misinformation in the American electorate and also studied the degree to which various media sources impact this problem. The results are fascinating, if a little unsettling.