Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Do you ever wonder why people fool themselves into believing arguments made by creationists, witch doctors, Fox News, and other fact-challenged charlatans? By way of Barry Ritholtz, we get a brief introduction into a topic I discuss all the time with my colleague from the Department of Psychology, Dr. Luis Vega.

Disconfirmation Bias
n. The tendency to accept supportive evidence of a belief uncritically, but to actively refute or discount evidence that challenges that belief.

Example Citations:
In other words, when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end — winning our “case” — and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.
—Chris Mooney, “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” Mother Jones, April 18, 2011

My colleague, Dr. Vega, says that in the extreme attempts to rationalize what's not true can lead to bouts of delusion (or delusions of grandeur). More generally, though, what we're talking about is "selective attention" that's designed to confirm personal biases and beliefs. This allows people to rationalize anything they want. Whether we're talking about Holocaust deniers, the "birthers" or losers like this ...

... the results are the same. People can convince themselves about things that simply aren't true. All they need is regular confirmation.

- Mark

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