In my last entry, I discussed my observational hypothesis about how the human mind can reject objective reality in favor of a false view of the universe when the truth threatens the investment an individual has placed in an incorrect worldview. And how the rejection of each new objective fact actually reinforces the false worldview because the investment becomes greater. I didn’t realize that researchers at the University of Michigan had been working on the exact same hypothesis. They just released a report with their findings. Take a look at this quote from a Boston Globe article:
The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”
In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information.
Here’s a link to the full report from Brenden Nyhan and his research team. It may load slowly, because it’s a PDF.