Doubling Down is Easier than Giving In
Humans are motivated to stick to their existing opinions rather than adjust them based on new information.
December 4, 2020Updated 10 months ago
Worldviews are the lenses through which we filter our own realities. We develop our worldviews from our very earliest interactions and hold onto them deeply.
This quick video provides a description of worldviews.
A worldview is a collection of attitudes, values, stories and expectations about the world around us, which inform our every thought and action. Worldviews are expressed in a variety of categories -- from religion and philosophy to ethics and scientific beliefs. These beliefs are what shape our opinions, form our group identities, and cement us in the world.
Importantly, we each have a worldview. We absorb our worldviews from the culture which surrounds us, starting from our very earliest interactions. For example, as we first begin to construct our identities using lessons from parents, siblings, peers and media, we are shaping who we want to be -- even nursery rhymes told in infancy inform our identity construction. And in today's culture with the rise of social media, we have an arsenal of cultural stories at our disposal. 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, our worldviews.
For example, if you are a devout Catholic and think “that is just wrong” when you hear about someone going to an abortion clinic, your worldview is in action. Worldviews are how culture shakes out at an individual level, and since we are predisposed to think our opinions are always correct or normal, it is often in the “clashes” of worldviews that our own are exposed.
From an evolutionary perspective, belonging to a group was necessary for survival. We relied on our broader group for food and protection. 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 and respond accordingly.
As humans, it’s easier to reject or ignore evidence that challenges our worldview or established opinion.
Cognitive dissonance describes the anxiety we experience from holding two incongruent ideas in our minds simultaneously.
This video offers a "crash course" in cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance describes how it takes a lot more mental energy to hold two conflicting ideas in one’s mind simultaneously. This excess mental energy is uncomfortable (and studies show it can even make us feel physical discomfort), therefore, this is often something we avoid at all costs.
To understand cognitive dissonance in action, consider the following example. Consider the guilty and conflicted emotions you might feel when you want to eat an extra cookie but also believe that a consistent diet is important for your health. Believing that dieting is important but wanting to eat an extra cookie are contradictory or incompatible beliefs.
To reconcile this inconsistency, there are a number of different tactics one could deploy. First, you might change one belief (e.g., rather than feel conflicted by the incongruent thoughts, you instead think “one more cookie isn’t really going to impact my health”). Alternatively, you might change our behavior (e.g., if I believe dieting is important, I will not eat an extra cookie). A third tactic to resolve this inconsistent thinking could be to rationalize your behavior (e.g., I do believe diet is important to my health and I do want to eat an extra cookie, but I also exercise regularly so the impact of the cookie won’t really be felt). Finally, you might trivialize the thought altogether to solve for your inconsistent thinking (e.g., rather than feel conflicted by the incongruent thoughts, you instead think “diet doesn’t really matter to my overall health”).
Each of these tactics are ways we solve for the discomfort of cognitive dissonance so we can perceive ourselves as rational and consistent beings.
To avoid this discomfort, we often default to accepting information that supports our existing beliefs or worldview, known as Confirmation Bias.
Quick video offers an explanation of the Confirmation Bias.
The Confirmation Bias explains how humans often seek out and accept that which already supports their beliefs. For deeply entrenched beliefs or worldviews and emotionally charged issues, the effect has been found to be even stronger.
There are two main ways we display this bias. First, when we give more weight to information that confirms our beliefs and undervalue information that might disprove them, we’re demonstrating the confirmation bias. For example, we might claim that a news story is more credible from one source over another if the source more closely aligns with our preconceived beliefs. We can also display this bias when we selectively gather or recall information. Using the same example as before, we may only subscribe to the news sources that aligns with our preconceived beliefs and selectively filter out news from sources that do not align.
Ultimately, the Confirmation Bias helps us to maintain consistency in our thinking by equipping us with mental shortcuts to accept that which already supports our beliefs.
And the theory of motivated reasoning explains how easy it is for us to default to the information that supports our preconceived beliefs. The theory of motivated reasoning suggests that we seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and we avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts our beliefs.
This quick video explains the theory of motivated reasoning.
Another way humans tend to reduce cognitive dissonance is through motivated reasoning. Similar to the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning describes the tendency for humans to find arguments in favor of preconceived conclusions stronger than arguments for conclusions they do not want to believe. And unlike the rational, unbiased approach of critical thinking, this theory explains how we form and cling to false beliefs in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary.
We tend to engage in this kind of thinking when faced with a threat to the self. These “threats” can come in several forms -- when our self-worth, our future, or our worldviews are at stake. When these triggers are not at stake, humans are often motivated to draw accurate conclusions.
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. Even when we don’t fully agree with our own opinions, for “hot button” issues (e.g., politics, religion) we paradoxically will defend them even more in the face of an opposing point of view.
Consider Trump supporters, for example. Many Trump voters found themselves in a position where they defended Trump's actions and behavior once in office - even when they didn't fully support them. Voting for him once was enough to make them double down and defend, rather than reflect on whether they should revise their thinking.
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.
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