When did you last discuss something with someone and came to the conclusion that they were right and that you were wrong? For many of us the answer to this question will be, “Not for a while”. We all want to be seen as open-minded, but in reality, humans struggle to change an opinion once they have mentally signed up for it. We tend to defend our position even in the face of many contradictory facts.
Much as we want to be seen as rational and objective we are not robots. We tend to process facts through the filter of our existing emotions, beliefs and attitudes about the world. Our minds build up a model of reality and we believe that this is reality. So, when other people don’t share this same model of reality we tend to assume they are mistaken, or stupid, or just misinformed. Furthermore, we tend to focus on facts that support our model of reality, and dismiss or rubbish facts that contradict it. Or even worse, demean the person who challenges us.
Sometimes having to defend our position can lead us to raise our defensive walls even higher. Psychologists have called this the backfire effect. It refers to what happens when the process of defending our position actually leads to our point of view becoming actually strengthened and made even more entrenched.
So, we tend to believe what we want to believe. There aren’t many ways to avoid it and we all do it. But, recognising our stubborn reluctance to shift our views, is important. And we should be especially cautious of trying to change other people’s minds by bombarding them with facts. It will rarely work.
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