The Psychology Of Backfire Effect


And Why You Should Know About It.

Everyone has certain set of beliefs and opinions in life. These range from political, social, cultural aspects to every bit mundane stuff of how to and how not to do certain things and how the world should be. These beliefs and opinions are dear to you and no matter what happens, you will protect them from harm.

The internet war

When you come across an opinion in daily life that contradicts your already established view of the world — you go berserk! You enter the this-is-absolute-shit mode. From there on, it’s a crazy ride. Every counter argument / comment from the other side is like fuel to the fire burning inside of you to break other person’s opinion into pieces.

What’s the catch? The person on the other end is on the same journey. Precisely the reason you see long threads of comments of people arguing and posting evidence that they are right and the other person’s opinion is full of shit.

If anyone tries to put force on that shield of yours that protects your opinions, you backfire with a stronger version of that opinion. This might sound strange but it is true.

Think about the last time you were in an argument or debate with someone regarding an opinion of yours. Every time a person would have tried to find a loophole in your idea, you would have backfired with a stronger evidence.

The person on the other side of the table may or may not be right — but that’s not the point.

The point is that that discomfort of someone refuting our beliefs and ideas, in fact, can be so intolerable that we often go to great lengths to disguise or deny our changing beliefs by paying less attention to information that contradicts our present convictions and more to that which confirms them.

Hence, everyone protects their beliefs like a mother protects her baby. They wouldn’t let ANYONE hurt it. When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

In psychology, this is called the Backfire Effect.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.

There are reasons why it is so difficult to win an argument online:

When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel even surer of his position than before you started the debate. As he matches your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs.

In conclusion: People will never like their opinions challenged unless they absolutely know the other side is in the right. Otherwise, it will just help them strengthen their preconceived notion of how the world works and how it is supposed to work.

So what can all of us —especially people on the internet — try to do instead? Well, as Maria Popova says:

Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind!

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