by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from "The San Antonio Express-News," September 7, 2019
(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and inspirational/motivational speaker. He is available for luncheons, small group programs or conferences. Contact him by email at [email protected], or visit his website, www.mexicobytouch.com.)
If we accept climate change is real, then we might have to change our lifestyle. It may be easier to confirm our biases and reject science.
Why do we believe what we believe?
Much of what we believe comes from people we trust — our friends, associates, families, religious or political leaders and social media. We believe what they tell us to because we trust their honesty, their judgment and the reliability of their information.
It allows us to confidently accept and defend opinions, ideas, policies and positions without having to personally examine the facts or their origin. It saves time.
Then, once we have chosen to believe something, we stick with it. We develop “blind spots.” We don’t look at information objectively. We pick out those bits of data that confirm our prejudices and dismiss any data that contradict our beliefs. This is called “confirmation bias,” a term coined by English psychologist Peter Wason. It is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. The effect is stronger for desired outcomes, emotionally charged issues and deeply entrenched beliefs.
Human beings are not often the objective, rational creatures we like to think we are. Psychologists say one of the most frequent ways information processing and decision-making becomes distorted is through confirmation bias.
Psychologists give the example of the denial of global warming or the discrediting of its science as important examples of this phenomenon. People process scientific information about climate change to conform to their pre-existing beliefs. Accepting climate change is true would mean accepting unpleasant environmental consequences and could result in causing people to make significant changes in their lifestyles. Changing one’s mind and changing one’s lifestyle are extremely hard. We would rather stay with our beliefs.
Psychologists suggest when we want a certain idea or concept to be true, we talk ourselves into believing it to be true. This causes us to stop seeking information when the evidence gathered at that point confirms the views or prejudices we would like to be true.
We embrace all information that confirms our view while ignoring or rejecting information that casts any doubt on it. Once we lock onto one way of thinking, we lock out all other options, and we build an emotional attachment to that way of thinking. Columbus had to convince a lot of people the world was not flat.
We manipulate our perceptions to support our opinion.
If I see my children as wonderful, well-behaved, perfect ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to believe teachers, neighbors or the police if they tell me differently. Even if clear evidence is brought to my attention, I will rationalize it by claiming they had to have been influenced by the bad example of some other kids.
Similarly, if we are told by a source we trust that the Russians did not attempt to meddle in our 2016 elections, we will hold firmly to that idea, despite any evidence to the contrary.
But blindly believing the opinions or pronouncements of others or stubbornly holding onto an idea or viewpoint (because so-and-so said it was so) can lead to making wrong decisions, following the wrong leaders or compromising our moral values. And that’s how I see it.