back to article Prof: People reject news which conflicts with beliefs

It's well known that people have a tendency to seek out information which confirms what they already believe. Beancurd-scoffing hippies read the Guardian; mindless bigoted reactionaries read the Daily Mail; people who feel that the IT industry would benefit from the involvement of Paris Hilton in some way read the Reg. But now, …

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Paris Hilton

So,

I'm a BeanCurd scoffing IT loving hippie am I?

Paris, because she loves scoffing other peoples dubious stuff

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Paris Hilton

This thread

needs more paris hilton

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Tehehe

And same goes for research...

I want to prove that this is so thus will discard any data that doesn't enforce my findings and publish that ;)

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He's wrong!

I don't believe that.

Really, how much more blindingly obvious can you get. Of course people reject information that doesn't agree with their beliefs, that's what beliefs are all about. If you believe that the sky is blue and a news report tells you it's orange, you tend to think "what a load of old carp" and carry on stuffing food down your neck, while changing channels to one that does support what you "know".

Surely it doesn't take a study (real-life shows us all the time) that the most insecure people are the ones most likely to cling to (irrational?) beliefs. Without getting into an argument about religions, or politics, doesn't every well-balanced individual reach this conclusion, on their own, sometime around the time they leave the parental home and/or starting work?

However, this isn't even a proper study. All the "researchers" did was to look at the data from other peoples' work. One could also accuse them of doing precisely what their conclusions say: namely giving more credit to information they believe to be true. All they've done is wrap it up in psychobabble.

Coming up next: we prefer weighing scales that tell us lighter body-weights. "Size 12" clothes that are really size 16. Advertisements that show our cars to be cool - not crocks. Friends who agree with us - rather than the idiots who don't. Research that tells us new and insightful facts instead of secondhand wittering with over-long words.

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Pint

and presumably

As "It's well known that people have a tendency to seek out information which confirms what they already believe."

They started from a position of believing that people reject news that confilcts with their beliefs...

Arrgghh!! Loop detected! Overload!!

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Grenade

Very true

"it is those with little confidence in their own beliefs who are least willing to consider opposing views"

This little statement explains the whole history of organised religion :)

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So that explains it

"...The prof added that, counterintuitively, it is those with little confidence in their own beliefs who are least willing to consider opposing views. ..."

I always wondered why it was so difficult for so many people to see the problems with Bush, now I understand.

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Big Brother

Amarican resaearch

doesn't necessarily apply everywhere. America is more of a conformist society than most others in my experience which would suggest they are more likely to stick to their views than people in other societies.

Having said that, Nu-labour UK appears to have headed off down that path too. No room for other opinions and certainly not eccentricity anywmore!

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@Pete 2

I don't think it's quite as black or white as your sky example....

The Sky IS blue (well it's not actually... it's just showing a reflection of the sea, but still) whereas a news report saying that politicians don't lie about expense claims MIGHT be true, but most of us currently believe that they do are screwing us over.

Personally I think Lewis reads the Daily Mail in secret....

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Anonymous Coward

Two Plus Two = 5

People are so stupid, I keep telling them that 2+2 =5, but they disagree? Preferring to reject the information as false, just because of their previous mass of information on mathematics and stuff.

Why do they not reject all the previous information in their head they've learned since a child and go with the new stuff I'm saying is true????

I find that more subjective things, like 'morals', they are even less likely to accept my views. It's is perfectly OK, to BBQ your pet dog while it's still alive! It's yelps are screams of joy. Why don't people believe me?????

Yours

Professor Nutter PHD in the bleeding obvious.

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Quote

"Presumably this research has only a one-third chance of being accepted by people who consider the population - and by extension themselves - to be generally open-minded."

This made me chuckle.

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My above comment

Should have had the <- thumbs up icon not thumbs down.

Sorry, I'm having a "special" day today...

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FAIL

Good Job Of Stating The Obvious

This is pure bullshit. All the writer is saying is people don't believe what they don't believe. That's why it's call a "Belief System".

What a waste of space; uncle Louie must be running out of sensationalism or other web crap.

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@Pete

Right-on! People who will even reassess existing beliefs on receipt of new information are not only very few, they tend to keep quiet about it.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Good Job Of Stating The Obvious

I'd challenge you on that belief, Doug, but...

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@scott mckenzie

"The Sky IS blue (well it's not actually... it's just showing a reflection of the sea, but still)"

I think you need to look this one up in a proper encyclopedia.

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Paris Hilton

I don't believe it

This has of course caused me to question my own beliefs and I am now concerned with the true potential maximum velocity of a sheep in a vacuum.

The reg introduced this standard unit of measurement sometime ago and I accepted it as fact as I do with everything the reg publish because I trust Vulture Central.

or at least I did, but now I'm not so sure, or am I.

Then of course Paris was on South Park the other night and that too has caused me to question my core values.

Where will this end? Has it started? Oh dear

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Headmaster

Creationists

"People who are sure they're right are actually more likely to listen to the other side of an argument."

Hehehe. So true. You should read the incredibly polite responses the people at talkorigins.org give to the loonies who write in to their feedback pages.

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/feedback/

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Anonymous Coward

I don't believe it

I don't believe a word of it.

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Stop

@Scott McKenzie

"..The Sky IS blue (well it's not actually... it's just showing a reflection of the sea,.."

I've always wondered - why does the sea turn red in the evening?

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jsp
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I don't know why I read these comments...

... they are always full of nonsense.

@Targuin: _they_ didn't say "it's well known ...", El Reg did. So you can't draw any conclusions about their preconceptions based on that.

@Pete 2

> How blindingly obvious ...

But isn't that the whole point of science: to test things that are "obvious" and determine, based on the evidence, if they really are true or not?

Or perhaps you would prefer scientific conclusions to be based on majority opinions, instead of researching the "obvious". In which case, it turns out that evolution didn't happen after all - at least not in some States :-)

The report says "As predicted ...", so I don't think they were looking to overturn the current understanding. (So maybe Tarquin is right after all)

Anyway, there was only a small preference for "congenial" over accurate information and often the desire for accuracy would overwheigh this. So maybe its not quite as simple as you think.

> isn't even a proper study

This sort of meta-analysis is a well-established and very important type of research. It allows you to analyse a much larger sample than a single study can. There are obviously problems with the different sampling methods and research methodologies that have to be taken into account.

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Joke

Defn: Recursion - See "recursion"

I agree, this is a statement of the bloody obvious. We all know that people not in agreement with us are blindly rejecting our superior position, or avoiding us entirely.

Whereas we ourselves are perfectly open-minded, and only reached our current positions after carefully viewing /all/ sides of the debate, and picking the correct one.

Unlike all the sheep.

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@Scott Mckenzie

"The Sky IS blue (well it's not actually... it's just showing a reflection of the sea, but still)"

Gee what rubbish - look up Raleigh Scattering if you want to know why the sky is blue...

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Sky

@Scott Mckenzie

No, the sky is blue because the air diffracts blue light more than other colours.

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Bollocks...!

"The prof added that, counterintuitively, it is those with little confidence in their own beliefs who are least willing to consider opposing views."

I frequently have problems in discussion forums, getting accused by some people of not being willing to listen to other points of view and only accepting stuff that agrees with my own beliefs etc.

But what these people don't realise is that I've developed my opinions over 20 or more years of such discussions. I will still listen and I'm perfectly willing to change my position, but they're going to have to come up with a damned convincing argument to show why my position is wrong.

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FAIL

Ground breaking research....

by the Illinois University of the Bleedin' Obvious.

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Sky

The sky is blue 'cos any other colour would be stupid.

Dave

P.S.

I'm not sure that I like being david 22. Can I have another number please?

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Go

Blue sky thinking

Does explain a lot about the climate debates that we see here, the intransigence in the face of all the evidence in either direction. And all because people are uncertain about their own beliefs.

I guess that was kind of obvious actually...

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Boffin

@Scott Mckenzie

The sky is not blue because it's showing a reflection of the sea, it is just that the air is preferentially scattering the blue light in the sun's spectrum, so it looks like there is blue light coming from all directions.

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That last bit brings to mind this lyric...

Desperate, tenacious, clinging like a grain of sand,

watching its foundation wash away,

drunk with the assertions, they know they can't defend,

confident that they might live again.

Bad Religion, Live Again (The Fall of Man)

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Joke

Hmm

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I CAN'T SEE!

It must have been that blinding flash of the obvious that just caught me full-beam.

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Pint

And the sky is also still blue today!

People prefer what does not make them uncomfortable — if that isn't news I don't know what is.

Therefore I cannot quite grasp what is counterintuitive in:

"The prof added that, counterintuitively, it is those with little confidence in their own beliefs who are least willing to consider opposing views. People who are sure they're right are actually more likely to listen to the other side of an argument."

If you have low confidence in your beliefs, then you are already in a certain discomfort, wich is furthered by being confronted with a challenge in form of opposing views. So if you're "weak" so to say, you cling to the little confidence you have, whereas the "strong" can afford to explore from their position of comfort. That's in no way counterintuitive.

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Boffin

Now I understand

So maybe this is why the bulk of people in higher sciences, certain positions of power that require open minds, and most of the poeple in history documented as either being simply "smarter" or having had come up with revolutionary ideas or inventions have all been peopole who either did not believe in a God, or did, but at least directly questioned that belief (whether openly, or in private writings).

When you're already questioning your own beliefs, clearly it's very easy to listen to information that may provide answers to those questions. ...and by extension, if you are acustomed to questioning, and listening, then you;re more likely not only to be exposed to more information, but to actually absorb that information and try to do something with int (usually leading to more questions, but occasionally, with enough questions someone actually forms a unique idea).

Of course, this also directly correlates to and supports the data that the higher your IQ, the less likely you follow a structured religion. That is NOT saying IF you follow a religion you are dumb (I know 6 members of Mensa who are HIGHLY active with their churches. i also know a gentleman who owns a science reasearch firm, has over 100 patents in moleclear science, magnetics, and more to his name, and an IQ just over 165 who is one of his church's leaders), it's simply that if your IQ is lower, you are more easily drawn to religion. (however, there are also studies that show that the method which the church teaches youth may limit the development of the logic sections of the brain, and may limit the ability to question either through social behaviors learned or through brain development, so if you do take your kids to church, id also suggest ensuring their tendencies to question are nurtered, subdued.)

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Anonymous Coward

Stopped where it should have started

As everyone else has pointed out, this research appears to be a glimpse of the bleedin' obvious. What would be much more interesting would be a quantitative study of how this "cognitive inertia" varies between individuals and groups. One would hope, for instance, that university professors would be less wedded to theories and more open-minded to new information that the average person (although anecdotal evidence suggests the opposite is sometimes true).

I would describe the ability to consider and objectively evaluate information that appears incompatible with your opinions as "intellectual honesty", and I don't think there is nearly enough of it about these days. (Actually, I suspect the Victorians were a lot more open-minded than we are, not to mention the Elizabethans of Shakespeare's time).

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Boffin

Warning...

...this column may contain traces of nuts.

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Pint

@jsp

"@Targuin: _they_ didn't say "it's well known ...", El Reg did. So you can't draw any conclusions about their preconceptions based on that."

Well, in the interest of Sarah seeing the world as a nice happy place, and as you pointed out my error so nicely, I hereby humbly apologise for my aforementioned blunder.

:-)

Happy, happy, happy. A bit too warm, but happy. Perhaps another beer will help!

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WTF?

...and in other news

The pope wears a dress.

Bears defecate in areas with arboreal coverings

etc

etc

Did these guys get a reasearch grant for this? If that's the case then, by fuck I'm going back to university for some more sitting around idly, smoking my grant and continual drinking.

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Joke

To those criticising Scottt

See, the research was right, you are all clinging to your beliefs that the sky is blue because of this Raleigh scattering (although implying there is a massive bike scattering blue light everywhere sounds kind of crazy to me) rather than the more plausible explanation of it being a reflection of the sea (even in areas were there is no sea!)

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Anonymous Coward

Middle America isn't the world...

...Though clearly a lot of Americans think so.

In fact the direct cause of a great deal more trouble in this world than they'll ever admit - possibly because of the very phenomena the Prof describes...

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Confirmation bias

It's worth adding that this whole area is generally called "confirmation bias" - that is the tendency for people to only look for evidence that supports their position and avoid that which does not. For a not unrelated reason, product reviews are commonly read by people who have already bought the item in question - they are after affirmation of decisions that they've already come to.

In principle, scientific method tries to eliminate confirmation bias by actively looking for tests that can disprove a theory (or to be more accurate in "natural sciences"). Of course that's vastly easier to do in the so-called "hard" sciences like physics and chemistry ("hard", not because they are necessarily difficult, but because they produce firmer, less ambiguous results). However, even the greatest scientists had have their belief systems (Einstein had his prejudices against non-deterministic systems, and sometimes it can get completely out of hand, like Linus Pauling's quite unjustified faith in mega-quantities of vitamin C). Once you get into "soft" sciences, then the scope for confirmation bias becomes far bigger, simply because of the inherent ambiguities and complexities.

To be honest Lewis seems to be a classic case of this particular syndrome. His selection of stories doesn't seem to me to be reflective of anything but having made up his mind on many matters. No doubt he acts as a counter-balance to many from opposing viewpoints. I guess that is the best way to view most journalists with strong views - more as columnists rather than chroniclers of events.

It appears to be a sad truth about humanity that far more intellectual effort gets put into justifying pre-disposed beliefs than analysis (or maybe it's a survival necessity). What we get is tjhe triumph of advocacy over analysis. That's possibly why western governmentsand media are plagued with huge numbers of lawyers (specialists in advocacy) and humanities (e.g. most historians arre advocates - which is why so many are associated with political doctrines) and very few scientists. For the most part, natural scientists live in a world of uncertainty alien to the average politician.

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@Tom Welsh

> university professors would be less wedded to theories and more open-minded to new information

Tom, Tom, Tom.

If only that was true, the world would be such a better place that you could almost measure the improvement. However, once you move them outside their sphere of learning, Profs academics and other professionals are just as biased, bigoted and close-minded as the rest of us. Whether it's their political views, belief in astrology or other hokum, superstitions or just plane intellectual laziness their unwillingness to think rationally and act accordingly would make you despair.

It's even worse if they think their professional expertise is being questioned. Just go to your doctor and tell him/her you think the diagnosis is wrong - based on something you looked up on the internet. Then watch as they turn purple. You may well be right, but there's no chance in hell that they would admit that the stuff they learned (and have since half-forgotten over the past 30 years) might have been obsoleted by newer discoveries or treatments - that the average Joe can find off Wikipedia

As an example I'd offer just three words: Evidence Based Medicine

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jsp
Pint

@Tarquin

Cheers!

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Imagine that, a bunch of psychologists have produced

a study that confirms their belief that people believe what they want to believe. Who'd a thunk?

@Steven Jones

The scientific method tries no such thing. Being a method, it tries to do nothing, it simply is and you either use it or do not use it. Furthermore, theories are never disproved, hypotheses are. Theories are complexes of hypotheses, and if a hypothesis is disproved the theory is broken, not disproved.

My personal experience is that natural scientists are the most opinionated of people I've run into, and that includes the political pundits I like to read. Engineers on the other hand tend to be reasoning individuals. Lewis seems to be an odd mixture of both.

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Coffee/keyboard

Oh well

I expected the comments to be full of people pointing out the irony of Lewis Page writing this story. It seems that even my light ribbing of Page gets rejected these days anyway.

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Boffin

Confirmation bias

I'm sure this has been studied back in the 60's (Peter Cathcart Wason springs to mind)... Essentially it's human nature to look to "prove" something correct, ultimately spotting patterns (where no pattern exists) as that is what a human brain is built to do. It's why people have lucky socks, where superstitions come from etc.

Whereas scientists tend to try their best to disprove a theory. It's impossible to *prove* a theory, you just get more and more confident of it. There is no way to guarantee that your next observations will match the theory. However it's very easy to disprove a theory - find one contradiction.

Hell, even the wikipedia article on confirmation bias is pretty accurate

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Boffin

@frank ly

"I've always wondered - why does the sea turn red in the evening?"

Because some religious nuts kill a goat at the same time every evening and throw the carcus into the sea. The sky reflects this and thus turns it red. They only perform this ritual when they want it to be sunny the next day. If they are hoping for rain, they do it in the morning (while doing a rain dance).

It's double blind tested - the religious nuts blindfold themselves and the goat beforehand. Leads to a lot of cut fingers but it's worth it in the name of science.

Quod erat demonstrandum

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Paris Hilton

Well....

At least this "dog bites man" story is a little less self-evident than the "Disney animated films don't show gay love" story that you ran a few days back.....

We need a Dr. Obvious icon!

Paris--because her talents are very obvious...

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@Tom 13

Certainly Karl Popper had it that scientific theories could be falsified by testing predictions made by that theory. I realise that there have been all sorts of later refinements and criticism of some of his work, but the basic principle is about falsifiability.

To quote Steven Hawkins

"Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory."

So certainly in Steven Hawkins mind (and Karl Popper, whose model was using), tests of a theory can certainly disprove it (although the idea that a single observation would do that is a trifle misleading - usually repeatability is required in order to reduce the likelihood of a single error in the carrying out of an experiment falsifying a theory, and in the sense that every experiment could be flawed then you might argue nothing can truly be falsified).

As for the scientific method - well in the sense that no method tries to do anything, it's people that have intentions, then fair enough, but it hardly changes the meaning. The imputation of intention into inanimate objects and concepts is a fairly normal figure of speech. In this case, it is just saying that the collective developers of the scientific methods intended it to be so.

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CTG
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Confirmation bias

@Steven Jones - exactly. This is why we get Lewis writing articles about any research that he hopes will contradict the prevailing AGW theory of climate change, while he completely ignores any research that backs the theory up. For example, a couple of papers were recently published that discussed how aerosols affect radiative forcing. Both of these papers were quite clear that the effects they described were in addition to the effects of CO2, but Lewis chose to describe them as though they were in contradiction to the CO2 theory. Confirmation bias also explains why El Reg refused to correct those articles even when it was pointed out to them that they were completely and utterly wrong. It also explains why this comment won't make it past the moderator, just like all the other comments that I post criticising El Reg get nixed.

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Has no-one linked this research to iPhone buyers yet ?

x

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