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Surprising Science

Why Do We Make Unproven Assertions When Our Beliefs Contradict with the Facts?

Why are there so many climate change deniers when there's an overwhelming amount of evidence that prove its existence? Researchers have looked into the psychology of this thought process and found our need for security will always trump the facts.

People don’t like being contradicted. When we are faced with facts that may threaten our beliefs, we counter them by making unproven assertions or excuses. But why do we do this when the facts are, well, the facts? Tom Jacobs of the Pacific Standard writes on a new study that has found if the facts threaten our psychological need for security, we’ll shift our thoughts to rely on untested statements.

People were up in arms after Edward Snowden leaked the information about NSA spying. But when faced with the daunting task of how to protect ourselves, many people would rather claim, “I’ve got nothing to hide,” than dealing with securing their own rights. It’s the same thinking with climate change, as well, some will deny until they’re blue in the face.

Researchers took a group of 174 participants, 124 of whom support same-sex marriage and 50 who were against it. They were chosen at random to read one of two newspaper articles. One that stated the outcome of children raised by same-sex couples is no different than that of opposite-sex couples. The other article claimed that children raised under the roof of a same-sex couple fared more poorly in life.

The participants were then asked to respond to the following two statements: “Whether same sex-marriage should be legal is a matter of fact or opinion,” and “Whether same-sex couples raise children as well as man-woman couples is a matter of fact or opinion.” Researchers had them evaluate the statements based on a four-point scale, ranging from “completely a matter of fact” to “completely a matter of opinion.”

“When faced with threatening information, both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage reported that the political issues of same-sex marriage and parenting were less about ‘facts’ and more matters of moral opinion.”

The researchers went on to speculate a grim future for the state of facts versus beliefs on a broader scale–one that can be seen when looking at the argument for climate change, today:

“If including unfalsifiability is one defensive response to threat, popular belief systems may evolve to include more aspects of unfalsifiability over time, such as by marginalizing the relevance of science if they suspect that science does not support their beliefs.”

Read more at Pacific Standard

Photo Credit: pio3/Shutterstock


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