Saturday, September 21, 2013

Day 450: I Refuse to Listen to your Lies

This post continues from my previous posts starting here - please read for context.

Ignoring or screening out information incongruent with our current views is certainly one way of resisting persuasion. But growing evidence suggests that in addition to this kind of passive defense of our attitudes, we also use a more active strategy as well: We actively counterargue against views that are contrary to our own (eg, Eagly, Chen, Chaiken, & Shaw-Barnes, 1999). By doing so, it makes the opposing views more memorable than they would be otherwise, but it reduces their impact on our attitudes. 
Eagly, Kulesa, Brannon, Shaw, and Hutson-Comeaux (2000) identified students as either pro-choice or pro-life in their attitudes toward abortion. These students were then exposed to persuasive messages that were either consistent with their attitudes or were contrary to their views. After hearing the messages, participants reported their attitudes toward abortion, the strength of their attitudes, and listed all the arguments in the message they could recall (a measure of memory). In addition, they listed the thoughts they had while listening to the message; this provided information on the context to which they counterargued against the message when it was contrary to their own views.
As expected, the results indicated that the counterattitudinal message and the proattitudinal message were equally memorable. However participants reported thinking more systematically about the counterattitudinal message and reported having more oppositional thoughts about it - a clear sign that they were indeed counterarguing against the message. 
In contrast, they reported having more supportive thoughts in response to the proattitudinal message. Therefore one reason we are so good at resisting persuasion is that we not only ignore information that is inconsistent with our current views, but we also carefully process counterattitudinal input and argue actively against it. In a sense, we provide our own, strong defense against efforts to change our attitudes. In other words, exposure to arguments opposed to our attitudes can serve to strengthen the views we already hold, making us more resistant to subsequent efforts to change them. - Social Psychology (Twelfth Edition) by Robert A Baron, Nyla R Branscombe, & Donn Byrne

It is very difficult to speak to someone who refuses to consider any other possible view but their own. We can all say that we have met someone, or been in a situation, like this. Obviously this stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there is any other relevant aspect to ourselves and our views that we may not yet have considered, leads us to act in rather unusual ways.

When I say "act in unusual ways", I mean doing things like killing, torturing, abusing and generally being assholes to each other. This one simply point it the cause of a huge amount of pain and suffering in our world - just look at religious and political "extremists": they are so committed to their views that they are willing to inflict all kinds of pain, on themselves and on others, in an attempt to achieve the conformity of everyone else in the world.

Consider family arguments: how many people have experienced trying to deal with a family member who downright refuses to consider any view but their own - such a seemingly small thing can cause a lot of harm to a family unit.

At times we will even face a situation in which a person takes an iron-clad argument and quite simply rejects it, however illogically or delusionally this may be. This is a relatively extreme example - but it still serves to show how absolutely ridiculous we, the mighty human race, can be (and are, most of the time). We actively seek ways, it seems, to make our relations with other people as difficult and unpleasant as possible - in the end, making all our lives that much more difficult.

Unfortunately, we don't even realise that this is what we're doing most of the time.

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