This post is an extension of the UPDATE of yesterday’s post. I thought that it needed its own thread due to the importance of the conclusion of the university study. The conclusion, in essence, is that you can’t teach an old dog new facts.
The Boston Globe article begins:
It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.
It seems to me that this Jeffersonian platitude was widely accepted among The People of this nation. But now, there is evidence that people furnished with the facts, most often do not change their opinion. That’s terribly frightening and clearly bodes poorly for the continuing functioning of our democracy.
The article continues:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
Terribly shocking news. That is why I have reprinted the story once again.
The article continues:
Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper. “The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”
Well, that’s the psychology of it all. Surely this phenomenon has been around humanity before Jefferson, but there is a great difference today. There are many 24/7 media outlets as well as the Internet that can spew out spun facts and outright lies to an eager audience who will soak them up like a sponge. And, they are reinforced daily, around the clock.
A few days ago I asked UptheFlag if he knew why there are some people who are so easily propagandized while he seems to have avoided that plague. It’s like not getting the flu or measles. One is not immunized against propaganda, but perhaps the content of this U of M report explains his resistance to right-wing propaganda. And mine as well. We have incorporated our own set of beliefs through the years and, when presented by a piece of ‘data’ that counters our accumulated knowledge, it rolls off of us like water off of the proverbial duck.
Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”
This new information has changed my mind about the effectiveness of blogging as a source of information-sharing. While it may keep ‘those in the know’ up to date about the people whose political views cluster on the right-wing of the political spectrum, it is useless to assume any more lofty benefits from blogging- specifically, the ability to change the minds of people through truth-verification. It seems to me that we are essentially spinning our wheels.
What say you?