October 12, 2014

The Backfire Effect

The Backfire Effect or Identity-Protective Cognition is when people hold onto their personal and tribal narrative even when it is wrong and unfounded. The antidote to this kind of egregious thinking and groupthink is the Orwell Method. But first, a little more on the Backfire Effect.

Maria Popova is well known for writing, "Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind." This is a painful process, made all the harder by the "Backfire Effect" as Maria Popova explained, changing the mind is a problem many grapple with, however it is hard. Because on one hand:
"The awareness that personal growth means transcending our smaller selves as we reach for a more dimensional, intelligent, and enlightened understanding of the world."
And on the other hand:
"The excruciating growing pains of evolving or completely abandoning our former, more inferior beliefs as we integrate new knowledge and insight into our comprehension of how life works. That discomfort, in fact, can be so intolerable that we often go to great lengths to disguise or deny our changing beliefs by paying less attention to information that contradicts our present convictions and more to that which confirms them."
She continued:
"In other words, we fail the fifth tenet of Carl Sagan’s timelessly brilliant and necessary Baloney Detection Kit for critical thinking: “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours”."
That human instinct is called the backfire effect. Self-examination, investigation, self-reflection and adaptability makers us stronger. As Maria said, "What makes [the Backfire Effect] especially worrisome is that in the process of exerting effort on dealing with the cognitive dissonance produced by conflicting evidence, we actually end up building new memories and new neural connections that further strengthen our original convictions." The Backfire Effect is slovenly. As Maria said:
"The backfire effect is due in large part to our cognitive laziness — our minds simply prefer explanations that take less effort to process, and consolidating conflicting facts with our existing beliefs is enormously straining."
"[This leaves us] a little humbled by our own fallible humanity, and a little more motivated to use tools like Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit as vital weapons of self-defense against the aggressive self-righteousness of our own minds."
Similar to the Backfire Effect, The Yale professor Dan Kahan writes about Identity-Protective Cognition, which is " a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values."
Another solution is the Orwell Method as I call it, where we question our own side first and constantly face up to our own prejudices, bigotries and shortcomings, thereby constantly strengthening and refining your argument.

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