I have been keenly interested in the discussions that have ensued following the tragic events that took place in Uvalde, Texas in May. Whether you follow standard media and/or social media, gun control is a polarizing topic.
What is most evident is that we have deeply held beliefs on matters such as gun control.
Can you think of a time in your life when you questioned your original judgment, especially on a big issue, and upon reflection, changed your viewpoint or accepted that you were wrong?
I certainly could not yet I am a rational person capable of sound judgement!
The difficulty in changing our viewpoints reminds me of the Iraq War.
Much of the justification of that war was centered on Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Shortly after the war was started, it was clear that there were no WMDs in Iraq. Regardless, of whether the war was right or wrong, the reaction to this new evidence is fascinating. Many who supported the war either didn’t recall that WMD’s were a key factor or believed the WMDs had been found.
To obtain support from his country, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, stated that Iraq had hundreds of WMD sites. When the sites could not be found he stated that inspectors were not looking hard enough. Ten years later when Tony Blair was asked if his decision over Iraq was the right one given the absence of WMDs and the thousands of deaths he said “…I think I made the right decision. Yes, I am sure more than I have ever been”.
Why does evidence that dispels our beliefs strengthen our convictions?
Changing our minds is a threat to our egos. It requires us to accept that maybe we are wrong, were duped, or we are not as smart as we like to think.
“Cognitive dissonance” is a term used to describe the inner tension we feel when our beliefs are challenged by evidence. The more we have riding on our judgements, the more likely we are to disregard evidence that calls them into question.
A paper called “It Knew it Would Happen” provides a great example of this dissonance. The psychologists conducted a survey to obtain predictions on likelihood of events happening. They also had them put the percentages in writing. In cases where the event actually happened, they later remembered their percentage at a much higher level than what was stated before the event. If it didn’t happen, they remembered their probability as much lower.
This is a classic example of how our emotions filter even the most straightforward information.
Admitting you are wrong and changing your view even in the face of contradictory evidence is not an easy thing to do.
How do we mitigate and address our own cognitive dissonance?
One of the keys is thinking like a scientist which is that “beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded”.
Changing our minds means dealing with discomfort. Ask yourself what the source of the discomfort is. It could be your how you were raised, your peers, or lack of knowledge. This could be holding you back in many aspects of your personal or professional life preventing the world from seeing the real you.
If you were asked to read one of the following articles, which would you chose?
A) Scientists Report Surprising Evidence: Artic Ice Melting Even Faster Than Expected”
B) Scientists Find Still More Evidence That Global Warming Actually Slowed in Last Decade”
Did you select the one that aligned with your viewpoint?
Curious people select the one that runs against the preconceptions because they understand that maybe they will learn something.
When we make public statements on social media or to friends and family, it locks our attitudes in place and therefore it becomes harder to consider a change in viewpoint.
Instead of responding to polarizing viewpoints that go against your own views, next time think like a scientist and understand that maybe you have a gap in knowledge on the topic.
If we want to make the world add up, we need to ask questions – open minded, genuine questions. Tim Harford
“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do sir?” John Maynard Keynes
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”