Science that threatens a person's 'world view'; can backfire: researcher

Aug 21, 2012

Using evidence to ‘back up' science can actually have the reverse psychological effect on some people, according to a researcher at The University of Queensland.

UQ Global Change Institute research fellow John Cook said reporting that is perceived to threaten a person's view of the world can actually backfire.

“People derive a large part of their sense of identity from their world view, how they see the world. So they react defensively to any information that threatens their world view,” he said.

“What's fascinating, is that new, contradictory evidence can actually cause people to feel stronger in their initial beliefs.”

Mr Cook, the mastermind behind the successful Skeptical Science website, is developing a psychological model that simulates how people react to evidence that threatens their world view. One of the features of the model is that distrust of science is a key factor in the so-called “backfire effect”.

“If you distrust the science that threatens your world view, then more scientific evidence will make you react with suspicion, causing you to double down on your beliefs,” Mr Cook said.

Mr Cook hopes the model will shed light on how people process information and give way to better, more effective approaches in science communication.

“If distrust in science is a key element to denial, maybe we're better off targeting trust in the science - by explaining the peer-reviewed process and the checks and balances in the scientific method,” he said.

Mr Cook's model, however, predicts that this approach will have minimal impact at the extreme end of the ideological scale.

“When people have extreme views, you can't pull trust one way and world view the other. By and large, world view wins,” he said.

“A better tack is to attempt to reduce the biasing influence of the world view, by showing that doesn't threaten it.”

According to Mr Cook's , this works better when delivered by someone that shares the values of the recipient.

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User comments : 8

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AWaB
4.9 / 5 (7) Aug 21, 2012
He's right. When people's beliefs are threatened, they will retreat back to what they believe. He's even more right when he says,
A better tack is to attempt to reduce the biasing influence of the world view, by showing that science doesn't threaten it.
The global warming debate would be much more focused on science rather than rock throwing if a little more tack had been used initially.
Deathclock
3.4 / 5 (7) Aug 21, 2012
I guess that's why there are so few scientists... people care more about maintaining what they believe than learning new things. It's sad, really... makes me wonder how different the world would be if more people had a scientific mindset that is more open to new evidence and new understanding of things.
dschlink
3.8 / 5 (4) Aug 21, 2012
One science teacher took the tactic of telling his students that, "You don't have to believe in evolution, you just have to understand the theory for this class."
Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2012
Limited views (world or otherwise) are always suceptible to threats - imagined or 'real'.

You will learn 'trust' from Nature.
You already 'tinker' with concepts of immortality.
- to 'beat' the 'ultimate' 'threat.

Trust is good.
Control is better.
Politics aside.
rwinners
5 / 5 (3) Aug 21, 2012
Actually, you can substitute the word "logic" for "science" and the same statements hold true.
People really want to hold onto long held views that, more often than not, are acquired by listening to some they trust.
It's a syndrome otherwise known as lazy brain.
ValeriaT
3 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2012
Using evidence to back up' science can actually have the reverse psychological effect on some people
Actually to most of people. We could call it a "cold fusion" effect.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2012
That is an accommodationist talking, hence "model" instead of tested results.

Here are tested results:

"Other psychologists do basic research on social marketing. Curtis Haugtvedt hopes social marketers in the field will use what hes learned about persuasion as a result of his laboratory experiments on recycling. So far, hes found that emotional appealslike the famous ad showing an American Indian with a tear rolling down his face as he confronts pollutionwork better than cognitive ones when it comes to persuading people to recycle. Emphasizing that everyone else is doing it also helps. (Emphasis Added)

And this:

Repetition is one way to increase visual fluency and hence appeal. The more people see something, the more they like it. Advertisers intuitively know that exposing people repetitively to the same stimulus increases liking, says Winkielman. Thats one of the reasons they show the same ad over and over again. "
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2012
[cont]

[ http://scienceblo...e-accom/ ]

TL;DR: Be up front, be emphatic and be persistent. No one believes "the extreme end" will be influenced, but the majority can be.