Thursday, July 16, 2009

One In Three Have The Courage To Think For Themselves

July 3, 2009 Courtesy University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, American Psychological Association and World Science staff.
Peo­ple tend to avoid in­forma­t­ion they don’t agree with—but cer­tain fac­tors can prompt them to seek out, or at least con­sid­er, oth­er points of view, new re­search has found.The anal­y­sis, re­ported this month in the jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Bul­le­tin, in­clud­ed da­ta from 91 stud­ies in­volv­ing nearly 8,000 par­ti­ci­pants. The au­thors said it set­tles a long­stand­ing de­bate over wheth­er peo­ple ac­tively avoid in­forma­t­ion that con­tra­dicts what they think, or wheth­er they’re simply ex­posed more of­ten to ide­as that con­form to their own be­cause they tend to be sur­rounded by like-mind­ed peo­ple.“We wanted to see ex­actly across the board to what ex­tent peo­ple are will­ing to seek out the truth ver­sus just stay com­fort­a­ble with what they know,” said Un­ivers­ity of Il­li­nois psy­chol­o­gist Do­lo­res Al­bar­racín, who led the study with Un­ivers­ity of Flor­i­da re­searcher Wil­liam Hart. The stud­ies they re­viewed gen­er­ally asked par­ti­ci­pants about their views on a giv­en top­ic and then al­lowed them to choose wheth­er they wanted to view or read in­forma­t­ion sup­port­ing their own or an op­pos­ing point of view.The re­search­ers found that peo­ple are on av­er­age about twice as likely to se­lect in­forma­t­ion that sup­ports their own point of view as to con­sid­er an op­pos­ing idea. Some, more closed-minded peo­ple are even more re­luc­tant to ex­pose them­selves to dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives, Al­bar­racín said. The re­search­ers al­so found, not sur­pris­ing­ly, that peo­ple are more re­sist­ant to new points of view when their own ide­as are as­so­ci­at­ed with po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious or eth­i­cal val­ues.“If you are really com­mit­ted to your own at­ti­tude – for ex­am­ple, if you are a very com­mit­ted Dem­o­crat – you are more likely to seek con­gen­ial in­forma­t­ion,”Al­bar­racín said. “If the is­sues con­cern mor­al val­ues or pol­i­tics, about 70 per­cent of the time you will choose con­gen­ial in­forma­t­ion, ver­sus about 60 per­cent of the time if the is­sues are not re­lat­ed to val­ues.”Per­haps more sur­pris­ing­ly, peo­ple who have lit­tle con­fi­dence in their own be­liefs are less likely to ex­pose them­selves to con­tra­ry views than peo­ple who are very con­fi­dent in their own ide­as, Al­bar­racín said.Cer­tain fac­tors can al­so in­duce peo­ple to seek out op­pos­ing points of view, she said. Those who may have to pub­licly de­fend their ide­as, such as politi­cians, for ex­am­ple, are more mo­ti­vat­ed to learn about the views of those who op­pose them. In the pro­cess, she said, they some­times find that their own ide­as evolve. Peo­ple are al­so more likely to ex­pose them­selves to op­pos­ing ide­as when it is use­ful to them in some way, Al­bar­racín said.“If you’re go­ing to buy a house and you really like the house, you’re still go­ing to have it in­spect­ed,” she said. Sim­i­lar­ly, no mat­ter how much you like your sur­geon, you may seek out a sec­ond opin­ion be­fore schedul­ing a ma­jor opera­t­ion, she said.“For the most part it seems that peo­ple tend to stay with their own be­liefs and at­ti­tudes be­cause chang­ing those might pre­vent them from liv­ing the lives they’re liv­ing,”Al­bar­racín said. “But it’s good news that one out of three times, or close to that, they are will­ing to seek out the oth­erside.”