Feature

Why fact can’t compete with belief

In a new study, social science researchers have found that people employ &ldquo;motivated reasoning&rdquo; to fend off any evidence that their strongly held beliefs are wrong, said Lane Wallace in <em>TheAtlantic.com.</em>&l

Lane WallaceTheAtlantic.com

Why do people cling to an opinion even after they’re presented with contradictory evidence? said Lane Wallace. “The easy answer, of course, is simply that people are irrational.” But the way in which they’re irrational is telling.

In a new study, social science researchers have found that people employ “motivated reasoning” to fend off any evidence that their strongly held beliefs are wrong. Many people feel that they are their opinions, and hate to lose arguments; as Vince Lombardi once said, “Every time you lose, you die a little.” So when confronted with new, troubling information, ideologues selectively interpret the facts or use “contorted logic” to make the conflicting evidence just go away. In the study, even when presented with “compelling, factual data” from a trusted source, many subjects “still found ways to dismiss it.” In fact, researchers found that exposing people to contradictory information actually “intensified” their existing beliefs, making them more rigid and entrenched.

Does that sound like our current, “hot button” political debates on health care, Afghanistan, and Iran? Needless to say, the findings do not offer much hope of “changing anyone else’s mind with facts or rational discussion.”

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