If you believe it, it’s truer.

Posted on under Today's research

The sad fact is that people reflexively accept information as accurate if it aligns with their worldview. This is true no matter how much big data you throw at the issue. Facts do not mold opinions or decisions.

Now a new study illuminates how rapid, involuntary mental processes kick in when responding to statements that correspond with an already held viewpoint.

The research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows how people’s tendency to remain entrenched in their worldviews is supported by their automatic cognitive “reflexes.”

What the researchers say: The team found that study participants verified the grammatical accuracy of statements about political topics, personal tastes and social issues much more quickly when they matched their opinion.

In a series of experiments, the researchers asked participants to respond to various opinion statements, such as “The internet has made people more isolated” or “The internet has made people more sociable,” and indicate as quickly as possible if the grammar of the sentence was correct or not. Later, they were asked if they agreed with each statement. Participants identified statements to be grammatically correct more quickly when they agreed with them, which revealed a rapid, involuntary effect of agreement on cognitive processing.

According to the lead author, “In order to make informed decisions, people need to be able to consider the merits and weaknesses of different opinions and adapt to new information. This involuntary, ‘reflex-like’ tendency to consider things we already believe in as being true, might dampen our ability to think things through in a rational way. Future studies could explore how other factors, such as acute stress or liberal or conservative viewpoints, affect this tendency to accept or reject opinions in a ‘knee-jerk’ manner.”

So, what? This study adds another confirmation of the now almost universally realized dictum that one of the prime motivators of human behavior is the desire to prove oneself right.