Why people stick to false beliefs despite hard evidence to the contrary

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Have you ever wondered why many people stick with beliefs that are false despite the fact that there is evidence to the contrary out there? It turns out feedback beats hard evidence.

Have you ever wondered why people are certain when they shouldn’t be? Why they stick with beliefs that are false despite evidence to the contrary?

“They think that they know everything so they are not curious and don’t seek out the information that could correct the misconceptions that they have,” says Celeste Kidd, senior author of a new study and an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

New findings from researchers at UC Berkeley suggest that feedback, rather than hard evidence, boost people’s sense of certainty when learning new things or trying to tell right from wrong.

Developmental psychologists have found that people’s beliefs are more likely to be reinforced by the positive or negative reactions they receive in response to an opinion, task or interaction than by logic, reasoning, and scientific data.

Their findings, published in the online issue of the journal Open Mind, sheds new light on how people handle information that challenges their worldview, and how certain learning habits can limit one’s intellectual horizons.

If you think you know a lot you will not learn how little you know

“If you think you know a lot about something, even though you don’t, you’re less likely to be curious enough to explore the topic further, and will fail to learn how little you know,” said study lead author Louis Marti, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UC Berkeley.

This cognitive dynamic can play out in all walks of actual and virtual life, including social media echo chambers, and may explain why some people are easily duped by charlatans.

The study examined what influences certainty in people while they are learning. It found that study participants’ confidence was based on their most recent performance rather than long-term cumulative results.

An ideal learner’s certainty would be based on the observations amassed over time as well as the feedback, Marti said. The experiments were conducted at the University of Rochester.

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