Motivated Reasoning: this is why You Can’t Win an Argument Using Facts – Winning an argument is hard these days. You can go the whole length of providing historical evidence, pictures, videos or even scientific evidence to back up your words, some people won’t just budge. Oftentimes, these peoples have strange ideas from flat-earthers, football, to the conspiracy theorists. Have you ever sat one time and wondered why these people refuse to change their beliefs, no matter how weird, bizarre, even when they stare at cold hard facts? Wonder no more, Motivated Reasoning: this is why You Can’t Win an Argument Using Facts – and you are probably guilty too.
Argue with a brick wall.
In 1956, Leon Festinger a physiologist report that people are more likely to arrive at conclusions they want to reach. This may not be rocket science, but the extent to which our brains are willing to go to believe those conclusions are huge. When you want to believe something, for instance, you search for supporting evidence, and if luckily there is a shred of pseudo-evidence, then you permit yourselves to believe, this just allows you to stop thinking.
This emotion-ladened decision-making phenomenon Is termed “motivated reasoning”. Motivated Reasoning: this is why You Can’t Win an Argument Using Facts. It is based on the logic that motives and emotions eclipse evidence and facts. Jonathan Haidt a social psychologist once said: “the reasoning process is more like a lawyer defending a client than a judge or scientist seeking the truth.”
Dr. Steven Novella, the host of “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” said, “If you’re a motivated believer, then there’s no way I can give you information to get you out of that belief”. At some point, you need understanding and insight into your own psychology, or else, you are going to use tools to further reinforce your belief, the one you held in the first place.
Motivated Reasoning: this is why You Can’t Win an Argument Using Facts
The power of motivated reasoning cannot be overstated. A study in 1968 test subjects who performed poorly in an IQ test decided to read an article which criticized the validity of IQ tests, as opposed to supporting them. In another study in 1992, participants involved in a health test that received unfavorable diagnosis found more reasons why the diagnostic result might not be accurate versus other healthier participants.
In addition, motivated reasoning can play a major part in influencing what a person sees; in 2006, a study showed participants were highly likely to interpret an ambiguous symbol on a screen as a letter rather than a number when they were incentivized in advance to do so.
Haidt’s landmark book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” summed up the reason why motivated reasoning causes a headache for scientists: “now that we all have access to search engines on our cell phones, we can call up a team of supportive scientists for almost any conclusion twenty-four hours a day. Whatever opinion you want to believe, whatever cause you want to align with, from global warming to whether a fetus can feel pain, just punch your belief on Google… Science is a smorgasbord, and Google will guide you to the study that’s right for you.”
Are you thinking you are too smart to engage in motivated reasoning? Well, have a rethink, “Ironically, smart people are better at it,” Novella said. “If you are well educated if you have some knowledge of critical thinking and some knowledge of science. That just feeds your motivated reasoning.”
A Skeptic’s Guide to Motivated Reasoning
Since the smartest of people are guilty of motivated reasoning, and getting evidence to support our beliefs is easier than ever, how then do we stop motivated reasoning? Different school of thoughts have sprung up on how to argue with a motivated opponent, the Socratic method being the most compelling. When it comes to barring yourself from this habit, scientific skepticism is a way out, but it is not an easy option.
Novella further said “a skeptical person consciously prioritizes having beliefs that are valid over invalid beliefs” you have to put in conscious effort into the process of evaluating beliefs than any particular conclusion. You have to appreciate any instance in which you are been proven wrong, and take it as an opportunity to change your belief and to correct it”
A good place to start is to be wary of sources that give credence to your beliefs. Often times, I am always the most critical of beliefs that I have or theories that I have come to that supports my own ideology” Novella explained. “So, if I have a particular view about an issue and something supports my view, then I have to be particularly suspicious of it, because at that point, I am most vulnerable.
That’s when my confirmation bias and motivated reasoning are going to set in. That point is when you should try to ask more questions. It is a high energy state, and you need lot of vigilance, practice, and dedication. This practice will last you for a lifetime, and there is no shortcut to it. You need high-level dedication to police your own thinking.” Remember, as you commute from home to everywhere and everywhere, discussions and arguments are bound to occur, if you can win check your belief, check your facts, if you are skeptical enough and thorough your facts are valid, remember that; Motivated Reasoning: this is why You Can’t Win an Argument Using Facts
Lastly, do not believe everything you read… well except for this article, of course….
– Oluwatosin Jegede