Sunday, July 18, 2010

Politics, Error-Correction and Cognitive Backfire

Here's a report on some of that research that seems to show that, if you correct people's political misconceptions, it often strengthens their false beliefs.

I haven't read the actual paper yet, and there are reasons to be skeptical. As another researcher points out, if you really hit people between the eyes with the facts, you can eliminate the backfire effect. (That's something we already knew, actually, from our ordinary experience.) I'd also note that, in Nyhan's research, what was tested was one story and one retraction. The effect will almost certainly decrease if you look at several encounters with disconfirming reports.

Interestingly, apparently people who feel better about themselves are more open to evidence that disconfirms their beliefs. This is an effect I've seen in myself. If I'm feeling good, getting lots of stuff right, on my game, and in a situation where my status is high, I'm much happier about admitting ignorance and error. In situations in which my status is lower, it's tougher.

Anyway, one solution to some of these problems comes to us from C. S. Peirce--don't lean so heavily on belief. Often--in science and in policy debates--hypotheses and tentative, working positions are superior to belief. The less ardently we're attached to a proposition, the lower the cognitive cost of abandoning it. Belief, Peirce says, is out of place in science.


Anonymous The Dark Avenger said...

What one should believe in is falsifiability, and that the scientific method is the best way to determine how the universe works.

11:15 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Interestingly, DA, I think it's the understanding of falsifiability itself from which we can most easily derive the position that belief is outside to the relm of science. I think the position that our postulations must be falsifiable in order to be scientific entails that one ought to be better off adopting tentative, working positions over staunch belief in his position as the rational scientific agent.

That doesn't mean we have to become inordinately skeptical of science or anything crazy. The scientific method in general seems to have a very good track record insofar as fruitful results go.

Just food for thought. I could be wrong, but it's kinda hard to think about these issues with all this ocean pounding the shore a few yards from my bedroom. =)

5:20 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Don't you have something more important to do this week than comment on blogs, Mystic?

6:44 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Don't YOU?

9:56 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Jebus, we were hoping to leave today, but the $#&%* slow-motion disaster that is this renovation just keeps on coming. With any luck at all we should make it down there by tomorrow afternoon.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see how Pierce's ideas combat results like these. The issue is at hand is how to treath false beliefs in people who don't follow Pierce in the first place.


2:12 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home