What better way to start this week’s Open Thread than with a helpful reminder about The Backfire Effect:
The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.
The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.
…Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.
Is that really true? Is stubborn, determined resistance to evidence an utterly inevitable result of argument? Is, as McRaney argues, debate online almost completely pointless? Worse – counterproductive?
What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs.
But not us, of course. We’re different…
I think I might set a challenge for this week’s Open Thread. Try to find something in the media, particularly by a writer with whom you disagree, on a subject about which you have a reasonably strong view, that actually changes your mind, that refines your basic position – and share it with us. What you did believe, and what the evidence was that persuaded you to reconsider somewhat.
Maybe we can be better rounded, more informed people by the Friday than we were on the Tuesday.