The science of why we don't believe science

April 21, 2011

We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself. […]

Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation--a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber [7] of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information--and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. "They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs," says Taber, "and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they're hearing." […]

Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

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