Awesome science blogger Ed Yong wrote back in October about a new study demonstrating the lengths to which people will go to avoid cognitive dissonance: When in doubt, shout – why shaking someone’s beliefs turns them into stronger advocates.
You don’t have to look very far for examples of people holding on to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Thousands still hold to the idea that vaccines cause autism, that all life was created a few thousand years ago, and even that drinking industrial bleach is a good idea. Look at comment threads across the internet and you’ll inevitably find legions of people who boldly support for these ideas in the face of any rational argument.
That might be depressing, but it’s not unexpected. In a new study, David Gal and Derek Rucker from Northwestern University have found that when people’s confidence in their beliefs is shaken, they become stronger advocates for those beliefs. The duo carried out three experiments involving issues such as animal testing, dietary preferences, and loyalty towards Macs over PCs. In each one, they subtly manipulated their subjects’ confidence and found the same thing: when faced with doubt, people shout even louder.
There are a couple of obvious tie-ins to the climate change debate: Deniers deny even more fiercely in the face of mounting scientific evidence that climate change is real, and that urgent action to address it is imperative. And I guess it cuts the other way, too, as shcb is no doubt already preparing to type in response: In the face of public relations setbacks, the climate change believers are redoubling their own efforts. If you believe that the believers are factually wrong, and that the evidence against them is legitimate, then it matches up in exactly the same way.
And accused people tend to protest their innocence, whether or not they are guilty. That doesn’t make the two cases equivalent, though. There is such a thing as actual innocence, and it makes a difference.
For more great stuff from Ed Yong, check out his NERS Review of the year Part 9 – Twists and lessons.