Julie Beck’s work, ‘This Article Won’t Change Your Mind,’ is an excellent illustration of individuals’ beliefs and their firm resolve to uphold them regardless of morality. Human beings preferentially and invariably choose beliefs over facts. Beck explains this phenomenon through several concepts which entail theories and studies done on human behavior, relationships and interactions. She presents her arguments on this topic in an unbiased and insightful fashion.
One theory by the social psychologist,Leon Festinger, defined cognitive dissonance as the discomfort caused when one’s simultaneous thoughts and feelings conflict with their behavior. Individuals try to get rid of the resultant feelings through surprising and unexpected ways ranging from feelings of minor guilt to self-destructive measures. Reducing this discomfort is a fundamental need since our actions directly influence our self-awareness and we cannot rationalize why our deeds don’t match our beliefs. This discord is observed in basic situations in lifelike dishonesty in people that claim they value honesty perhaps to protect themselves or a pro-life mother who performs an abortion for reasons best known to her. Additionally, some people litter theirsurroundings despite their strong beliefs in environmental conservation and others that embrace frugality still purchase expensive items. These simple, day-to-day examples appropriately illustrate Festinger’s theory.
A more complex cognitive dissonance occurs in religious contexts whereby individuals with strong convictions are the hardest to dissuade. Festinger and his colleagues once conducted a study on a cult led by anapocalyptic prophet whosedoomsday predictions never actualized, but her followers still kept the faith. Cultists cling to absurd beliefs despite compelling evidence that their leader’s ideas are a sham. These individuals choose to ignore facts about their leader’s exploitation or theirfoolish faith and obstinately maintain loyalty to their course.There are numerous American historical accounts of cults that exhibit these behavior patterns. For example, the Heaven’s Gate cult convinced its followers to abandon their families and await aliens who would escort them to heaven in a spaceship. Ironically, any logical reproaches worsen their unconventional beliefs. Such people, question facts and will refute undeniable evidence that their religious stances are deficient.
Terrorism is also another complicated form of cognitive dissonance. Terrorists often question their existence due to traumatic interpersonal relationships. They lack self- awareness and a sense of belonging cause by isolation, stress, rejection and ill health. According to Festinger, cognitive dissonance happens when personal identity is under threat, and they have an active and voluntary role in society to perform. In this case, terrorists are mostly torn between their religious beliefs, terrorism-related facts and the interconnectedness of the two. For example, a Muslim American soldier may encounter a notion that war on terror is an attack on Islam. These opinions may compromise his beliefs and place him in a conflicting situation that prompts him to choose between his faith and his career. He may face constant criticism from colleagues who feel like his religion and culture is part of terrorism the problem. In some cases, hemay resort to extreme measures to protect his identity as a Muslim by joining terrorist groups. This radicalization is an attempt from the soldier to reduce the discomfort his dissonance yields.
Since dissonance is uncomfortable, individuals have a fundamental needto reduce these feelings. They manage their distress through a psychological process called motivated reasoning. This case refers to how individuals consciously convince themselves or remain convinced about what they choose to believe. People deliberately seek information they agree with and reject, devalue, avoid or oppose information that contrasts with their beliefs. This reasoning begins when people encounter contradictory beliefs and try to reconcile them to suit their needs. Moreover, the tendency to cling to personal beliefs may be a protective mechanism against manipulation from false sources of information.
Groups apply motivated reasoning when members choose between defending their beliefs and losing their membership. Cultists regularly practice motivated reasoning to avoid excommunication. Similarly, American politics havethese group dynamics since members attach their identities to respective political parties. A more basic form of this reasoning is seen in peer groups when members are pressured to choose between expulsion and their beliefs.
False knowledge significantly influences the authenticity of facts. At times, people have unethical beliefs without tangible proof as seen in religious doctrines. Conspiracy theories and propaganda affect the truth, but persons who believe in the former don’t view these skewed notions as athreat.False informationalso enables people to understand who’s on their team or side since it brings people with shared beliefs together. Falsified news appeals to people who prefer its content as it conforms to what they want to hear and believe. This explains why fake news gains a lot of traction on social media platforms and other channels. However, in some cases, evolution is more important than the truth. People’s inherent need to protect themselves asmentioned above through motivated reasoning is critical for survival.
In 1967, researchers proved that people pick information sources and environments that favor their culture, religion, and habits. They shun situations that deviate from beliefs that shape their identity. The study subjected individuals to speeches filled with static. However, the participants were allowed to improve their audibility by pressing a button that reduced the noise. Christians were relieved when Anti-Christ speeches were inaudible while the less religiouswere more receptive to such content. Smokers willingly listenedto lectures that suggested cigarettes don’t cause cancer while nonsmokers embraced antismoking recordings. This process is referred to as selective exposure/ learning considering human beings tend to select and gravitate towards situations that support their beliefs and maximize their comfort. This mechanism is also a basic human need that people use to justify their life’s decisions.
Society constantly, naively or instinctively believes and accepts concepts without evidence and firsthand experience. People that lack expertise on specific facts, trust individuals who are reasonablyknowledgeable and educated on a matter. However, this trust is entirely subjective since people choose and assign legitimacy to experts who believe in similar aspects of life. This fact is disputable since many people are receptive to new ideas. Groups that exhibit this concept illustrate particularized trust whereby individuals with same beliefs and personalities strongly trust each other compared to strangers. Such a particularized group absorbs people who are alike and shuns those that don’t subscribe to their ideologies. This phenomenon that locks out persons based on their beliefs is called tribalism.
Tribalism influences group members to believe each other’s ideas and opinions. Tribal opinions affect media platforms and politics significantly since members from different groups may accuse their rivals of providing biased information.Additionally, tribalism offers a basis for discrimination along ethnic, racial, religious, political and economic grounds and, fosters hatred in society.In the United States, tribal political conflicts are rife since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. His regime is an accurate illustration of particularized trust among his supporters. For instance, he accuses any anti-Trump news outlets of fake news regardless of the authenticity of information.
Furthermore, he refers to pro-Trump news from media houses, like Fox and Friends, as objective and honorable. During election campaigns and his administration so far, there was propaganda that was tailored to improve his ratings and publicity while it tainted his opponent’s reputation. In such controversial cases, information becomes a tribal affair.
Tribalism has also affected African countries as well. Rwanda, a country that inhabits two dominant ethnic communities, the Hutu and the Tutsi, experienced the worst modern-daygenocide in 1994. The aggressors, the Hutus, who felt that they were a superior ethnic tribe, murdered millions of Tutsis. The Hutus felt that Tutsis were not the ideal Rwandese citizens that deserved a shot at leadership. Our human nature predisposes us to tribal-based hatred when our leaders use inflammatory remarks based on unethical beliefs to incite us.
In my opinion, it is indeed quite difficult to change people’s minds and beliefs. However, this doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility of change. Human beings can strive to achieve a delicate balance between their in-bred beliefs and facts to reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Discernment and critical-thinking enable someone to distinguish between reasonable religious, political and societal beliefs from credible sources. These steps can improve people’s negative attitudes and character traits, albeit slowly, through personal initiatives.
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