Sometimes deep-seated beliefs impervious to contrary evidence – Commercial Appeal

Last week, when my beloved New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, barely any friends shared my joy. Even my wife, a New York Giants fan, retorted with “The Patriots are a bunch of cheaters,” referring not so subtly to the deflated football scandal.

“They scored 45 points against the Colts in the AFC Championship, and they had a spectacular interception in the final 19 seconds of the Super bowl game to seal a Patriots victory,” I replied.

It’s not just my wife, and it’s not just about the Patriots, but we all have these deeply ingrained beliefs that no amount of evidence will unseat. (Even me, I must admit.)

Take, for example, the measles outbreak occurring in California. Some parents are convinced that vaccinating their children will be more harmful than helpful. Doctors and researchers can show these parents evidence of 97 percent vaccine efficacy, no links to autism, benefits of group immunity and even the possibility of eradicating an infectious disease from the nation — but no evidence will be sufficient. Rather, studies show that more evidence does not persuade such parents; it just makes them more resolute.

Or take the case of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to expand Medicaid, mostly to the working poor. No amount of convincing can get the entrenched conservatives to reconsider the possibility of supporting any bill which is tainted by association with “Obamacare,” even if it is sponsored by a Republican governor and would be similar to a Republican health care reform proposal with vouchers and co-payments that will incentivize enrollees with reimbursement for healthful decision-making.

Why is this? National Public Radio social science correspondent Shankar Vadantam commented on this phenomenon. Research studies find “that our beliefs on all manner of issues are shaped by our pre-existing views … . That doesn’t (mean) we’re completely deaf to the evidence; it just means that we filter how we interpret the evidence through our pre-existing beliefs and our loyalties to various groups and tribes.”

So this explains why I and millions of New Englanders see the Patriots as victors and my wife and the rest of the country see them as cheaters even though we are seeing the same evidence.

In essence, our brains are biased toward a particular position due to our loyalties even before we objectively evaluate the evidence to determine what is right and wrong. The end result is that both parties get it wrong. We reach a conclusion closer to our bias than to the truth.

Even in medicine we are tainted with such biases. On the same patient, a surgeon is more likely to lean toward a surgical option while I as an infectious disease doctor may favor a longer course of antibiotics.

So how do we see the world from a broader or possibly unbiased perspective in order for us to reach the “truth” or a more correct perspective? Ancient Eastern philosophy has the concept of anekant or multiplicity of views, which means that we must look at a situation or issue from various perspectives in order to reach the truth.

The fable of six blind men and the elephant helps prove this point: Each blind man touches a different part of the elephant’s body convinced it is a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, a rope; in reality they are touching the side, the tusk, the trunk, the leg, the ear, the tail, yet none is able to realize the truth: “It is an elephant.”

This is why business managers often do a “360- degree employee feedback” to overcome their blind spot or bias. In this process, all parties have a chance to weigh in, not just the supervisors.

So how do we overcome our blind spots in our day-to-day lives? A simple approach is by stopping and recognizing that another view exists, then listening and learning from the other person, and finally acknowledging and respecting all views. Ultimately, we may not agree, but this process allows a fair judgment of various perspectives accounting for our bias.

This may not be critical for household rivalry among football fans, but it can have life-or-death implications for an unvaccinated child or an uninsured family. We need to evaluate the evidence with fresh eyes not tainted by pre-existing belief systems. If we do, we may come up with different conclusions and a perspective closer to the truth.

Source : Commercial Appeal