Performance

How We Decide Who and What To Believe

who to believe

We appear to live in an age of misinformation.

Certain broadcasters and social media celebrities openly promote fake facts or misrepresentations of science and data to their audience, many of whom do not seem to care whether they are right or wrong, as long as they are hearing what they want to hear.

The promotion of misinformation can be caused by an over-inflated belief in their own judgment and knowledge, or often, they simply relish the chance to proclaim their own contrarian or ideological views. Sometimes, it’s just about self-interest.

Many of us have at least a few controversial beliefs. We might believe that the death penalty deters crime, or that raising the minimum wage decreases unemployment, or that raising business taxes will reduce innovation.

We might even believe that women are not as good at maths as men, or that the Earth is flat.

Some of these beliefs we will hold strongly.

But when we attempt to justify our beliefs, we often find the evidence pool is very shallow.

Researchers have identified a chronic illusion of explanatory depth, in that we overestimate our understanding of the world.

We can discover this by trying to justify our pet beliefs. To illustrate, when I interrogate myself about why I believe the death penalty is not a deterrent, I find there is not a lot there except for consensus beliefs among my peer group – some of whom I hope have looked into the evidence – some intuition, and vague memories of looking at some blog posts or newspaper articles. This is not a lot. But it is perhaps not surprising: we simply don’t have time to be experts on everything.

Sometimes people are described as having fallen prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect, or even as “having” Dunning-Kruger. Donald Trump was one such person.

The Dunning-Kruger effect, however, is a population-level effect, so no individual can “have” it. It primarily means that just because someone is confident doesn’t mean they are right. In fact, there are individual differences in confidence, with some people being absurdly sure of themselves, and others quite diffident.

But the confidence of highly confident but wrong people comes not from their ignorance, but from the fact that they are inherently confident about everything. Some researchers have described it as arrogance.

If he knew more, would Trump have been less confident? I doubt it; Trump was (or is) simply full of bluster, and his confidence was simply unrelated to his knowledge.

What determines the beliefs we adopt when we have a choice?

Scientific evidence can help, but often we believe what we want to believe anyway.

These beliefs might be “chosen” through indoctrination. They might be the result of self-interest or strongly held ideology, such as wealthy people believing taxes rob people of initiative. Or they might be required to fit into a social group.

How do specific beliefs become linked to specific social groups? In some cases, the link is quite clearly defined.

Strongly religious people generally do not believe in evolution, and atheists are not creationists. Partisanship also produces dispositions to belief. The moral values of conservatives involve different issues – such as respect for authority – than those on the left, who put more weight on harm prevention. Liberals tend to be more drawn to seeking out change and novelty, both personally and politically, while conservatives, in contrast, have a stronger preference for things that are familiar, stable and predictable.

Often, simply knowing a belief is endorsed by a member of “their” side is enough to get people to support it.

Many current controversies have this flavour, such as whether COVID vaccines or masks should be required, or whether nuclear power is good for the environment. We look to our peers, and to the authorities and ideologies we respect, and follow their lead.

We are also more likely to follow those who are highly confident, even though confidence is a poor predictor of accuracy. And, of course, those we follow, being human just like us, are probably doing the same thing.

Armchair experts are just behaving normally

Let’s return to those high-profile broadcasters, social media celebrities and armchair experts who have been willfully spreading an avalanche of misinformation.

They are really no different from everyone else.

If it is natural to believe things based on little evidence, and to believe things because they fit with our social group and partisan preferences, it should not surprise us that some hold beliefs quite at variance with ours. Or that they apparently do so despite, as it appears to us, overwhelming contradictory evidence – from their perspective we are doing the same thing. We should not be surprised if a TV reporter or Twitter celebrity is just as likely as anyone else to believe things based on flimsy evidence.

As individuals, we may have fallen on the side of accepted scientific wisdom (where the bulk of the evidence and experts sit) during the pandemic, but there will probably be other situations where we too have beliefs that are based on our own misjudgements, ideologies or personal gain.

The American writer and political activist Upton Sinclair famously wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”.

Even a scientist, when hired directly by a pharmaceutical company to evaluate the efficacy of a new blockbuster drug, might be disposed to find evidence of the drug’s effectiveness.

Conversely, there are probably reasons why a small – but prominent – number of scientists have taken a distinctly outlier stance regarding the pandemic, or other issues, such as climate change.

We need go no further than this to understand why there will be armchair experts proposing all possible positions, and when they gain attention and celebrity for doing so, they will stick with those positions.

To give up their position will be to lose all the attention, all the celebrity, and all their credibility. Imagine what would happen to Donald Trump if he were to come down on the side of poor refugees. Imagine what would happen to the radio hosts who have built up a larger following based on their unwavering libertarian views if they suddenly declared they had changed their minds about masks.

Once committed to a set of beliefs, the armchair expert is in it for the long run.The Conversation

About The Author

Daniel Read, Professor of Behavioural Science, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


 

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

happy woman 's face
How To Experience A Mystical State of Consciousness
by Ora Nadrich
Whatever it is we seek pleasure from, relying on external things to give us the high or a feeling…
a blurred clock expanding over a starry background
Horoscope Current Week: December 6 - 12, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
12 05 from rigidity to change 647528 complete
From Rigidity to Change
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
In order for things, or people, to change they need to be flexible. A willow tree bends in the wind…
man and dog in front of giant sequoia trees in California
The Art of Constant Wonder: Thank you, Life, for this day
by Pierre Pradervand
One of the greatest secrets of life is to know how to constantly marvel at existence and at the…
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Horoscope: Week of November 29 - December 5, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
young boy looking through binoculars
The Power of Five: Five Weeks, Five Months, Five Years
by Shelly Tygielski
At times, we have to let go of what is to make room for what will be. Of course, the very idea of…
man eating fast food
It's Not About the Food: Overeating, Addictions, and Emotions
by Jude Bijou
What if I told you a new diet called the "It's Not About the Food" is gaining popularity and…
woman dancing in the middle of an empty highway with a city skyline in the background
Having the Courage to Be True to Ourselves
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Each one of us is a unique individual, and thus it seems to follow that each one of us has a…
How To Awaken on Your Path and Dare To Be Yourself
How To Awaken on Your Path and Dare To Be Yourself
by Alan Cohen
As individuals, nations, and a planet, we have forgotten where we have come from, who we are, and…
A Time for Truth, A Time for Healing
A Time for Truth, A Time for Healing
by Marie T. Russell
There seems to be so many things going on these days that need to be addressed. I compare the…
Premonitory Dreams: Paying Attention to Divine Messages
Here's What To Do If You Have Premonitions In Your Dreams
by Nora Caron
One of my spiritual teachers spoke a lot about premonitory dreams. She was a firm believer that…

Selected for InnerSelf Magazine

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Taking A Step Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
Stepping Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
by John Ptacek
We spend our lives immersed in a flood of thoughts, unaware that another dimension of consciousness…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.