The Backfire Effect

You Are Not So Smart tells us about the backfire effect: when receiving information that contradicts your viewpoint counterintuitively only makes you stick more stubbornly to your opinion.

Geoffrey Munro at the University of California and Peter Ditto at Kent State University concocted a series of fake scientific studies in 1997. One set of studies said homosexuality was probably a mental illness. The other set suggested homosexuality was normal and natural. They then separated subjects into two groups; one group said they believed homosexuality was a mental illness and one did not. Each group then read the fake studies full of pretend facts and figures suggesting their worldview was wrong. On either side of the issue, after reading studies which did not support their beliefs, most people didn’t report an epiphany, a realization they’ve been wrong all these years. Instead, they said the issue was something science couldn’t understand. When asked about other topics later on, like spanking or astrology, these same people said they no longer trusted research to determine the truth. Rather than shed their belief and face facts, they rejected science altogether.

I like You Are Not So Smart because its information is so basic and applies to everyone. This is the kind of stuff we should’ve learned when we were younger. I don’t think knowing about fallacies would actually prevent us from committing them, but at least learning about the ubiquity of our logical fallacies and self delusions would make people aware that we’re wrong, a lot of the damn time, whether we like it or not and whether or not we can even conceive of ourselves being wrong in a given instance. A strong dose of humility for everyone would resolve a lot of conflict, and prevent a lot of poor decisions.


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