Francis Bacon once said, “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it.” (Fischhoff, 1983). Bacon made this statement and didn’t know that in the 1960’s psychologists would be testing and analyzing this attribute prevalent in humans and naming it the Confirmation-Bias (Klayman, 1987). The Confirmation-Bias can be seen in all societies, but typically when there is a strong feeling of community and friendship. The film Bernie shows the Confirmation-Bias in action in the small town called Carthage, Texas, where the community was outraged by the accusation of murder by their most beloved men against a distasteful woman. Influences from communities as well as personal biases will often, unconsciously, alter beliefs, causing unfair analysis of evidence in order to disprove one side.
Bernhardt Tiede arrived to Carthage, Texas, the “best small town in Texas”, as the assistant director of Hawthorne Funeral Home. After Getting to know Bernie, townspeople said he had a “magnetic personality”, he was at the top of the list of “being sent to Heaven”, and was the “most popular man”. Bernie was known for his ways with the families of the deceased, especially when it came to widows. After the death of Dwayne Nugent, an old-timed man that was greatly respected, Bernie became acquainted with Marjorie Nugent, his widow. Interviews with townspeople said Mrs. Nugent was hated because of her mean spirit and some even said they would’ve shot her for five dollars. She had no family connections, and was even sued by her grandchildren. Bernie would drop by Mrs. Nugent’s house with gifts and before long she invited him in her home, a unheard of event by her neighbors. Bernie was called brave by his boss for agreeing to take Marjorie on a weekend trip (Bernie, 2011). Many thought he was in it for her money, as she was the richest widow in town. The bias the community has towards both Bernie and Marjorie by this time has already been set for events that happen later on in the movie. It is evident that there is an extreme difference of personalities between Bernie and Marjorie and that the community views them as complete opposites. Marjorie is disconnected from the rest of her community, and one woman said, “When you live in a small town you have to be friendly and nice to folks.” (Bernie, 2011). When compared to Bernie’s giving and lovable demeanor, many wonder why he even gave Marjorie the light of day. When it came to Bernie’s sexual orientation, some people thought he was a little “light in the loafers”, as his boss liked to say. He then said Bernie was just busy with work all time, and never had time to pay attention to other woman. In a small religious town where homosexuality would have been taboo, many people decided to act unaware of Bernie’s tendencies. One woman even compared him to biblical figures, saying Bernie’s clothing, like his sandals, were worn by their lord and savior, so that has no effect on his sexuality. The district attorney, Danny Buck, is the only member of the town that seems to scrutinize Bernie’s actions. For example, when it comes to Bernie’s sexuality and the rest of the community turns a blind eye, Buck has numerous instances where he can point out homosexual behaviors (Bernie, 2011). Bernie started spending increased amount of times with Marjorie. She named him her sole beneficiary to her will, and with that he became her servant. He was her business manager, travel companion, and house-help. People said she intentionally put him in a dependent position because she was jealous of his community status. Bernie would drop whatever he was doing at her phone call. He started spending less time on his community projects that at one time were given his greatest attention. The community started noticing this and calling her...
Cited: Bernie [Motion picture]. (2011). USA: Millenium Films.
Fischhoff, B. and Beyth-Marom, R. (1983). Hypothesis evaluation from a Bayesian perspective. Psychological Review, 90, 239-260.
Klayman, J. & Ha, Y.W. (1987). Confirmation, Disconfirmation, and Information in Hypothesis Testing. Psychological Review, 94, 211-228
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