Why we have undue faith in the persuasiveness of our ideas

It’s fairly well known that we tend to have a rather high opinion of our own skills and knowledge, and indeed we tend to seek out information that confirms these predispositions.  A recent study highlights another fallacy in our thinking – that others will eventually come around to our point of view.  It’s something the authors refer to as a ‘favorable future’.

“It often seems that partisans believe they are so correct that others will eventually come to see the obviousness of their correctness,” the authors say. “Ironically, our findings indicate that this belief in a favorable future may diminish the likelihood that people will take action to ensure that the favorable future becomes reality.”

Coming around

Across six studies, the authors explored both how widely such thinking is, and why it emerges, before examining the impact it has.  For instance, on one of the studies, it emerged that there was a clear correlation between the beliefs participants had, and their estimation of how others’ beliefs would change.

The study revealed that this is a widespread phenomenon that cuts across cultures.  What’s more, it was shown to persist even when people were given incentives to make as accurate a prediction as possible about the malleability of others’ opinions.

Indeed, the study found that this belief had a profound influence on how we behave in the present.  The authors sent out two versions of a fundraising email for a political candidate.  The recipients were less likely to open the email if the subject line indicated that the candidate was in the lead in the contest versus slightly behind.  What’s more, those who did open the email were less likely to click the donation link and make a donation when they thought the candidate was leading.

“The most interesting aspect of this to me is how robust it is,” the authors say. “This pattern of findings emerges for an unexpectedly diverse range of preferences, views, and beliefs – and it emerges across cultures. People biasedly believe that others will change in ways that align with their current preferences, views, and beliefs.”

Our faith in the persuasiveness of our beliefs provides some insight into a whole range of phenomena.  I suppose the question now is just what can be done to mitigate this behavioral bias.

According to the researchers, this bias could help to explain a whole host of behavioral phenomena, from staying in a bad job or relationship to underestimating future opposition to a specific political view.  That’s perhaps a topic for a follow up study.

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