Doubling Down is Easier than Giving In
Humans are motivated to stick to their existing opinions rather than adjust them based on new information.
People hold their worldviews deeply. Worldviews are the lenses through which we filter our own realities.
Worldviews, or the beliefs and convictions we hold about the world around us, are what form our group identities and cement us in the world. From an evolutionary perspective, belonging to a group was necessary for survival. We relied on our broader group for food and protection and to go against the group risked being "kicked out," which significantly increased one's likelihood of dying. Today, while we may not face the same threats our ancestors did, as social creatures we still hold these fears deeply.
Opinions are often based in emotion and group affiliation, linking them deeper to one’s worldview or identity. As we develop our own identities, we use the broader narratives of the culture to which we want to remain a part of.
For example, even from young age when we first begin to construct our identities, we use the lessons from parents, siblings, peers and media to help inform who we want to be. And in today's culture, we have an arsenal of cultural stories at our disposal through the rise of social media. As we intertwine our beliefs with the groups to which we wish to belong (e.g., Liberal or Conservative, Catholic or Muslim) they become our convictions.
As humans, it's easier to reject or ignore evidence that challenges our established position or opinion.
Cognitive dissonance describes how it takes a lot more mental energy to hold two conflicting ideas in one’s mind simultaneously. For example, if we believe that exercise or diet are important for our health, but want to skip a workout to watch an episode of our favorite TV show or eat an extra cookie, we feel guilty and conflicted. Being in this state is uncomfortable and something humans avoid at all costs – we don’t like the discomfort!
And the theory of motivated reasoning explains how easy it is for us to default to the information that supports our preconceived beliefs.
For example, it's easier for ardent Trump supporters to downplay his inappropriate behavior towards women than it is to accept this information and adjust their opinion of him accordingly. Having already committed support publicly, their reputation is at stake and the need to construct a motivated reasoning is high.
And even more, we defend our opinions for "hot button" issues (e.g., politics, religion) even if we don't fully agree with them.
One study found an inverse relationship where the less strongly one felt about their "hot button" opinion (e.g., whether testing on animals was acceptable), the more they worked to convince others of their opinions.
So how do we get people to see things from our point of view? Some believe that the less we set out to force our beliefs on another, the freer they are to share their thinking and perhaps revise their opinions in the process. Similarly, some believe that the more respect and friendship we have with our debater, the more successful our exchange will be.