Liberals pride themselves on being members of the “fact-based community”.
But New Scientist notes:
New research … shows that [liberals are] just as deluded as everybody else.
One study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, concluded that conservatives and liberals were equally averse to listening to opposing viewpoints on hot-button issues, such as same-sex marriage. In fact, they were willing to give up the chance to win money just to avoid the unpleasantness of of hearing an opinion they disliked.
A meta-analysis of 41 studies recently published on the Social Science Research Network reached a similar conclusion: there was no difference in partisanship between liberals and conservatives. As it turns out, “open-minded” liberals are plagued by confirmation bias to the same extent as “closed-minded” conservatives.
That may explain the current US phenomenon of the “Regressive Left,” as University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne called them, believing that – as he put it – “some positions aren’t just wrong, but [are] taboo to mention”.
This is not really new …
Specifically, we noted in 2011:
- Rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.
- “For the most part people completely ignore contrary information.”
- “The study demonstrates voters’ ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information”
- People get deeply attached to their beliefs, and form emotional attachments that get wrapped up in their personal identity and sense of morality, irrespective of the facts of the matter ….
Alternet pointed out in June:
When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.
In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first. For instance, one article suggested the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next said the U.S. never found them, which was the truth. Those opposed to the war or who had strong liberal leanings tended to disagree with the original article and accept the second. Those who supported the war and leaned more toward the conservative camp tended to agree with the first article and strongly disagree with the second. These reactions shouldn’t surprise you. What should give you pause though is how conservatives felt about the correction. After reading that there were no WMDs, they reported being even more certain than before there actually were WMDs and their original beliefs were correct.
They repeated the experiment with other wedge issues like stem cell research and tax reform, and once again, they found corrections tended to increase the strength of the participants’ misconceptions if those corrections contradicted their ideologies. People on opposing sides of the political spectrum read the same articles and then the same corrections, and when new evidence was interpreted as threatening to their beliefs, they doubled down. The corrections backfired.
Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.
Psychologists call stories like these narrative scripts, stories that tell you what you want to hear, stories which confirm your beliefs and give you permission to continue feeling as you already do.
As the psychologist Thomas Gilovich said, “”When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude…for desired conclusions, we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe this?,’ but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’”
What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs.
The backfire effect is constantly shaping your beliefs and memory, keeping you consistently leaning one way or the other through a process psychologists call biased assimilation. Decades of research into a variety of cognitive biases shows you tend to see the world through thick, horn-rimmed glasses forged of belief and smudged with attitudes and ideologies.
Flash forward to 2011, and you have Fox News and MSNBC battling for cable journalism territory, both promising a viewpoint which will never challenge the beliefs of a certain portion of the audience. Biased assimilation guaranteed.
The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate
– Francis Bacon
It is very difficult for anyone to really listen to evidence which contradicts our beliefs. But unless we learn how to grit our teeth and do so, we will forever be victims to the divide-and-conquer game which ensures that we have politicians who will ignore our demands, we will be so wedded to one investment strategy that we will forever lose money on our investments, and we will generally be weak and disempowered people.