We’d all like to think we’re pretty sophisticated and open to new ideas and beliefs, right? Well, a recent article published in The Boston Globe claims we aren’t. Despite living in the Information Age, political scientists are finding that we’re not as flexible as we should be when confronted with data that contradicts our understanding of the world. Since democracies like ours depend on informed citizens capable of thinking critically and making decisions based on evidence, this is no small matter.
The article states:
In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
A lot of us are afraid of being wrong. That’s why, when told something that contrasts with our belief system, we are inclined to outright dismiss it. Others, with an equal lack of thought, simply believe whatever experts say because, after all, they’re the experts.
The author, Joe Keohane, goes on to argue:
Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. 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.
So, is this a cause for concern or just a bunch of academic hoo-hah? Tell us what you think in the comments below.