Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trying to understand the illogical

Cognitive dissonance Milwaukee Dan #2 posted a Newsweek article on Facebook the other day called "Lies of Mass Destruction" by Sharon Begley. In the article, the author tries to understand the reasoning behind those who continue to believe several lies about health care reform, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence that there is no truth to the claims. (This also applies to Birthers and their refusal to accept a valid, legal document.) I've wondered about that, too, so I was very interested in this article, which believes that there is a psychological aspect to this phenomenon.

As I've written before, I don't have a degree in Psychology or anything like that, but it's something that I've always found interesting. I loved the couple of classes I took in college, and I've just always enjoyed reading about various personality disorders and other psychological disorders. I guess you could say it's a hobby. At least it's one I don't have to buy a room full of supplies for!

The article states that people stick with their false beliefs, even though there is ample evidence to the contrary, because of something called "motivated reasoning." It means that people tend to look for information that confirms their beliefs rather than contradicts them. Anything that is not in line with what they believe is either completely ignored, or rationalized away. This comes as no surprise, because I wrote some time ago (I think during the election) about a study that showed that people tend to migrate towards news sources that jibe with their own beliefs. I certainly do that in watching CNN and MSNBC, or reading Huffington Post, but I do read sites like Politics Daily and magazines like Time which include both right and left wing columnists. You won't find me watching Faux News because I find it...well, sort of ridiculous...but I'm sure there are many people that refuse to watch CNN because they feel the same way about it. I think most of us recognize that we gravitate towards opinions that are similar to ours, whether in a news channel or in friends.

A study is mentioned in which the scientists conducted surveys concerning Saddam Hussein's link to 9/11. That was the main reason we attacked Iraq: Saddam blew up the Towers, right? Everyone knows that...except Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. 73% of the 246 participants still believed in a link between Saddam and 9/11, and extended interviews were conducted with 49 of those people. Even after they were shown evidence that there was no such link--including the admission by President Bush that there was no link--48 of them still found a way to justify our attack of Iraq. They did this by using inferred justification, in which they rationalize, "Well, since we invaded, we had to have a good reason to do so...if it wasn't because of 9/11, it was because he had weapons of mass destruction." Of course, there were no such weapons. "Well, it had to be because of something." They worked backwards from the invasion to try to find justification. Some just expressed confusion, like "I don't know what I know!" about the difference between what they believed and what the facts showed.

This is due to a psychological concept called "cognitive dissonance." I only vaguely recalled the term, so I did a little further research. It's basically what happens when what you believe to be true conflicts with evidence showing that it is not. A person experiencing cognitive dissonance will try to relieve the psychological tension this causes by finding other evidence that confirms their beliefs, or by ignoring fact or discrediting the sources of such facts.

Cognitive dissonance2 This relates to the persistent lies about health care reform, and President Obama himself, in this way: there were millions of people who did not vote for President Obama. They have found something here to latch onto in order to rationalize their belief that they made the correct choice. Whether they believe the nonsense about him not being a citizen, or point to bogus evidence that he's a Marxist, a Socialist, or a Muslim, or think that health care reform will mean insuring illegal aliens, it's all about cognitive dissonance. It's changing the facts--or ignoring or disbelieving them--to fit your own version of things. If someone didn’t vote for him because they don’t care for his politics, that’s one thing; believing obvious lies is quite another.

The mind is an amazing thing, but what energy it must take to constantly try to rationalize mistaken beliefs, whatever they happen to concern. I would think that would be a full-time job, and would lead to further psychological conflict. I'm sure we all rationalize our behaviors to some extent ("I'm going to eat that extra doughnut because I had a bad day," or "I'm not going to get lung cancer because I don't smoke as much as some people do"), but when you ignore clear evidence, that seems to go a little beyond simple rationalization and into the realm of delusion.

I almost forgot! Rabbit rabbit rabbit...evil spirits begone from Nutwood! :)


  1. Your posts blow me away. I love your quest for knowledge and your clear way of writing about complex issues. You, my friend, are amazing.

    And, yeah, I've got good friends who completely fall into this category. They'll insist until the day they die that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had much to do w/9-11. After all, they were harboring Bin Laden, you know. And just because we never found any WMD's doesn't mean they don't exist! Good God, it's like arguing with a two-year old or with George W. Bush. And isn't a major change in the health care system one of the main reasons we voted for Obama? Um, yeah, I think it was. Okay, blood pressure going back down...

  2. Funny, because I was going to do a entry with a mention of 'cognitive dissonance' in it.

    That so many people succmb to the 'noise' and won't do the work to know and inform themselves is what keeps me on an edge. You want to shake yourself as if you are dreaming. How can people believe some of the things they do, despite the evidence to the contrary, is mind boggling.

    I used to think that I had my finger on some of the reasons why, but I have given up. There is so much nonsense that takes up RAM in the collective CPU, that I wonder if anything is going to be done that benefits society.

    There is a bumper sticker for ecology that says, 'think globally, act locally'. The inference being that what ever you do at home has a greater impact than you realize. Do what you can do in your surroundings to encourage recycling.

    You could apply that to independent thinking as well. I don't think that enough people think for themselves and would rather let other think for them. Worse, they do think, but let the opinions of people who are so great flawed themselves ...

    Beth, you are teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole ... I get dizzy thinking about all of the ramifications of the 'balkanization' of our social and political landscapes.

  3. It's not just politics either, I've seen people just as adamant about religion. I think for these people it holds a semblance of solidity for them. Just as the truth and the facts might hold true for us.

    It's easier to believe falsely than have to admit your wrong or re-valuate what you might of previously thought. Kind of reminds me of OCPD. A personality disorder that won't allow you to admit your wrong, an obsessive need to be right. It means they've lost contro. Those suffering from OCPD - control must be kept at all cost. These people lose stability without their war cry.


  4. The search for truth and understanding amongst all the diatribes is almost a full time job, glad you are on the case :o)

  5. That's fascinating, Beth. I think too many people are comfortable in believing conflicting evidence just because it is presented to them so well and they are too lazy to challenge it. I think this is why the world is going like that. It could be better, but why try to make it better? We all live with false beliefs somehow, just at different stages in our life and/or different levels...It's too comfortable like that. All the best. Ciao. A.

  6. i'm sure that cognitive dissonance applies to my situation now as well. i told mr. mischief earlier that it seems that the powers-that-be are operating on the premise that thousands of years of collective catholic guilt will bully people into submission.

    i think they forgetten once again that i am not catholic (last time they wanted me to sponsor the first communicants and i was like oh wait, lutherans dont do that....)

    think of how fervently an 8 year old defends their personal belief in santa....that's what we've got here but now it's adults who refuse to believe in the light of all possible evidence showing their belief is contrary to reality.


  7. I need an example of someone of reasonable intelligence trying to rationalize true cognitive dissonance. The only ones I can come up with are people who try to find new 'facts' when the real facts blow their beliefs out of the water.

    As Moynihan (sort of) said: "You're entitled to your own opinion; but not to your own facts."

  8. for some i think it has nothing to do with those big words...but

    "gee, my brain is pickled from all the booze and i am so damn narrow minded and fucking stupid that i am going to believe what I want to believe and to hell with the TRUTH"

    (guess who i am talking about)


    "i hate Obama because...well, BECAUSE.

    clueless, stupid, lazy, mean spirited humans who have no clue how to THINK FOR THEMSELVES or have something to actually BELIEVE in live merrily each day with their beliefs that show they are full of it.

    nothing this President will ever do will be good enough for them. At least i did give Dubya a chance. Then he sent thousands into war.

  9. Well Miss Beth you are alot kinder than I am in trying to figure this out. I basically attribute it to stupidity ~ let's face it, there are ALOT of stupid people out there.

  10. I was looking at WorldNetDaily this afternoon just to see what it was all about, and I was trying to read it with an open mind. I found that nearly impossible. What trash! But then I tried to put myself in the mindset of someone who believes all that garbage, and wondered how they could possibly change their ideas by reading something like The Huffington Post. I guess it works both ways. Perhaps I'm as closed-minded as they are. Oh well, at least I don't try to dispute proven facts.

  11. I am ashamed. Your post is well written, reasonable, and logically based on the psychology of human nature and the only thing that I have to say is that I agree with Lisa, there are a whole lot of stupid people out there. However, I think that cognitive dissonance is a much more rational explanation. But it makes me feel better to just call them stupid.

  12. Well done! I've tried to figure this out, too. Your explanation makes sense. Sherry also has a point!

    I tried to give W a chance and hoped he'd do better than he did. We know how that turned out.

  13. 9/11 was caused by a Beer Summit between Obama, Saddam and Bin Laden. Glenn Beck told me so. Wh do you hate Real America so much, Beth?

  14. Don't you think we invaded Iraq because of bad information passed on to our leaders? In the beginning almost everyone agreed with the decision (based on what they knew at the time) but when it was proven wrong...OMG, Bush is an idiot who caused the whole mess. Give me a break please.

  15. Great post. It is not that I want to set myself apart, but I am as critical of Obama as I was of Bush. Yet I just so happen to agree more with Obama on so many levels. Maybe I do suffer from cognitive dissonance. But trust me I tend to read more than repugs any way.


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?