The Power of Us Jay J. Van Bavel, Dominic J. Packer
Human psychology: Decoded
Why Do We Cling To Belief?
Sometimes people like to believe in their beliefs, however absurd it sound and however contradictory the facts and evidence are to their beliefs. And these absurd beliefs range from the U.S. presidency to coronavirus, from mars colonization to time travel, and many more.
Why We Cling To Beliefs
We’ve all heard of situations where people refuse to change their minds, no matter what the evidence suggests.
Subscribe to Miniwise Newsletter (Free!)
Miniwise newsletter brings you one great bite-sized idea every day, curated from world's best non-fiction books, articles, podcasts..and more. An entire new world in just 5 minutes!
What motivates such irrational stubbornness?
Cognitive dissonance: the deep discomfort that arises when one’s beliefs and identity are called into question.
When faced with evidence that our beliefs are wrong, the rational response would be to update our beliefs.
However, experiments show that sometimes people go to great lengths to protect their beliefs.
Instead of changing their minds, they reduce dissonance by ignoring contradictions and seeking out new supporting “evidence”.
So what are the factors that cause us to cling to our beliefs far longer than we should?
- We cling to beliefs that are key to our sense of “self.” Some “selves” are more important to us than others.
- We cling to beliefs that are key to our social groups. On our own, it’s difficult to ignore or fight evidence that overwhelmingly proves our beliefs wrong. But when we have social support, it’s much easier to maintain a shared sense of reality.
If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct.
And beyond mere numbers of solidarity, our social groups give us something else too: a sense of “belonging.”
The need to “belong” is a powerful motivator — many of us will even support group beliefs that go against our own interests to maintain our group identity.
Thus, when beliefs we hold align with our identity and the identities of our social groups, we’ll hold onto them, for as long as we can.