“I’m confused, half blind, and sure I’m right!”
If you’re in the mood to be depressed, a story in The Boston Globe reports on a psychological phenomenon known as “backfire.”
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
The full article deserves a read, if you have the constitution for it (it just gets more and more depressing). One of its conclusions is that this phenomenon “bodes ill for democracy.” No doubt it does, but really, it bodes ill for humanity in general. After all, any form of government is ultimately run by people, people who apparently aren’t as open to new information as we would like. Maybe after reading such an article, the best we can hope is that, as Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried from time to time.” Let’s hope it’s enough to get us through the night.
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user Andrew Aliferis