If You Believe It, It’s Truer
“I’ll see it when I believe it.”
There’s an old expression, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but it might be more accurate to say “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
Psychological experiments demonstrate that people exhibit a taste for consistency. Individuals are inclined to interpret new evidence in ways that confirm their pre-existing beliefs.
Thomas Gilovich, a well-known professor of psychology at Cornell University has conducted research in social psychology and behavioral economics, with a focus on human biases in decision-making. He is the author of several books, including “How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life.”
Gilovich argues that information over time will normally regress to the mean or average, yet people tend to remain “anchored” to what happened most recently. Whether it concerns the financial markets, sports, the weather, or everyday life, Gilovich maintains the following:
• We tend to see more patterns in the world than are there.
• We too often hold on to beliefs that do not fit the observed data.
- We give too much credence to evidence that supports our beliefs and give too little credence to data that does not support our beliefs — confirmation bias is the “mother of all biases.”
If You Believe It, It’s Truer
Rapid, involuntary mental processes kick in when responding to statements that correspond with an already held viewpoint, according to a study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows how people’s tendency to remain entrenched in their worldviews is supported by their automatic cognitive “reflexes.”
The team led by Dr. Michael Gilead, head of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at BGU, found that study participants verified the grammatical accuracy of statements about political topics, personal tastes and social issues much more quickly when they matched their opinion.
Dr. Gilead collaborated on this research with Moran Sela, at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr. Anat Maril, a professor in The Hebrew University’s Department of Cognitive Science.
In a series of experiments, the researchers asked participants to respond to various opinion statements, such as “The internet has made people more isolated” or “The internet has made people more sociable,” and indicate as quickly as possible if the grammar of the sentence was correct or not. Later, they were asked if they agreed with each statement. Participants identified statements to be grammatically correct more quickly when they agreed with them, which revealed a rapid, involuntary effect of agreement on cognitive processing.
The investigation presents evidence that one of the reasons that people’s beliefs are sometimes so resistant to change could be that the acceptance (and perhaps also rejection) of confirmatory (or contradictory) opinions can occur in a rapid and involuntary manner.
The researchers reported “The results of the current study showed that participants were slower to confirm that an opinion statement is grammatically correct when they disagreed with it, compared to when they agreed with it. Participants’ agreement with the statements was completely irrelevant to the designation of the sentences as grammatically accurate; nonetheless, it markedly influenced their ability to perform the task. Thus, the results demonstrate that agreement with a stated opinion can have a rapid and involuntary effect on its cognitive processing. More specifically, the results suggest that the acceptance (and perhaps also rejection) of confirmatory (contradictory) opinions can occur without deliberation and volition. Importantly, the demonstration of such a knee-jerk acceptance/rejection of opinions may help explain people’s remarkable ability to remain entrenched in their convictions.”
According to Dr. Gilead, “In order to make informed decisions, people need to be able to consider the merits and weaknesses of different opinions and adapt to new information. This involuntary, ‘reflex-like’ tendency to consider things we already believe in as being true, might dampen our ability to think things through in a rational way.”