Have you ever held onto a belief that, deep down, you knew wasn’t quite right? We all have. The truth is that humans are prone to clinging to false beliefs. You tell yourself that the diet is working when the scale says otherwise or that the career change was the right move despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Why is it so hard to accept the truth?
The answer lies in two dangerous judgment errors our minds are inclined to make: confirmation bias and belief perseverance. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms your preexisting beliefs. Belief perseverance means continuing to hold onto a belief even after the evidence that originally supported it has been disproven.
Understanding these mental blind spots can help shed light on why we so stubbornly stick to false beliefs and may even inspire you to challenge some long-held assumptions of your own. The truth will set you free, if you let it.
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What is belief perseverance?
Belief perseverance refers to our tendency to cling to our beliefs even in the face of contradictory evidence. Once we form an opinion, it can be hard to accept that we might be wrong.
The psychology behind it
Belief persistence is rooted in basic human psychology. Our beliefs become entwined with our identity and ego, so changing or abandoning them can feel like a threat. It also takes mental effort to process new information that contradicts what we already think is true. Our brains prefer to take cognitive shortcuts, so we tend to ignore or dismiss anything that challenges our preexisting views.
This cognitive bias is closely related to confirmation bias, our tendency to seek out and believe information that confirms what we already believe and ignore anything that contradicts it. We surround ourselves with people and media that share our opinions. We interpret neutral or ambiguous information in a way that reinforces our beliefs. All of this allows our false beliefs to persist.
We see belief perseverance in people who cling to debunked conspiracy theories or strongly held political or religious beliefs despite evidence that contradicts them. Brand loyalists continue to buy products even after quality declines or competitors release superior options. Long-held stereotypes and prejudices persist even as society changes.
Overcoming beliefs requires an open and curious mindset, critical thinking, and a willingness to accept uncomfortable truths. But for many, the psychological appeal of clinging to familiar beliefs, however flawed or factually incorrect they may be, is too strong to resist. Our beliefs become so entangled with our sense of identity that to abandon them would mean abandoning a part of ourselves. And that is why false beliefs persist.
Belief Perseverance Examples:
We’ve all experienced perseverance in our beliefs at some point. Those times when, despite clear evidence to the contrary, you just can’t let go of a belief Here are a couple real-world examples of how belief and perseverance affect people’s lives:
In the 1970s, a woman named Dorothy Martin proclaimed that aliens would whisk her and her followers away right before a massive flood swept Earth. When doomsday came and went without incident, Martin’s followers actually strengthened their faith in her prophecies. Their perseverance caused them to twist facts to fit their views rather than accept the truth.
A similar thing happened with the Millerites, a 19th-century Christian group that firmly believed Jesus would return in 1844. When He didn’t show, the Millerites experienced what came to be known as the “Great Disappointment. But rather than abandon their beliefs, many found ways to rationalize what went wrong and stayed loyal followers.
In both cases, beliefs perseverance caused people to ignore evidence that contradicted their views. Instead of revising or abandoning their beliefs based on new facts, they found ways to distort or ignore the truth to avoid the discomfort of being wrong.
While belief-based perseverance allowed these groups to maintain faith in their convictions, it also led them to make poor life decisions that negatively impacted themselves and others. The desire to cling to beliefs in the face of contradictions is a very human one, but if we want to pursue truth and make good choices, we have to accept facts, even if they’re not what we want to believe. Overcoming beliefs with perseverance is difficult, but a willingness to consider alternative perspectives and accept we might be mistaken can help establish more accurate views in the long run.
Here are examples of belief and perseverance in action.
1. Political Beliefs:
Consider a scenario where someone strongly identifies with a particular political party. Despite encountering evidence that contradicts their party’s stance on a specific issue, they may continue to hold onto their beliefs. For instance, if a person strongly believes in smaller government intervention, they might ignore evidence showing the benefits of government regulation in certain areas. This is a classic example of belief perseverance, as individuals persist in their beliefs even when faced with conflicting information.
Superstitions often rely on belief and perseverance. Imagine someone who firmly believes in the power of a lucky charm or ritual. Even if they experience a series of negative outcomes, they might continue to attribute any positive outcomes to their superstitious beliefs. This happens because belief perseverance can cloud our judgment and prevent us from reassessing our beliefs in the face of contradicting evidence.
3. Conspiracy Theories:
Belief perseverance is prominently observed in the realm of conspiracy theories. People who strongly believe in a conspiracy theory often dismiss any evidence that contradicts their beliefs. For example, individuals who believe in the Flat Earth theory might refuse to acknowledge scientific evidence and argue that it is all part of a larger cover-up. Despite the availability of robust evidence, belief perseverance can cause individuals to remain steadfast in their conspiracy beliefs.
4. Religious Convictions:
Religious beliefs can also exhibit perseverance. When individuals have deeply held religious convictions, they may interpret events or experiences in a way that reinforces their beliefs. For instance, if someone believes in divine intervention, they might view a fortunate event as a confirmation of their faith while dismissing contrary evidence as a test of their devotion. This illustrates how belief and perseverance can influence our interpretation of the world around us.
5. Personal Identity:
Belief and perseverance can also manifest in our personal identities. Imagine someone who strongly identifies with a particular profession or hobby. They might persist in their belief that their chosen path is the best, even when confronted with evidence suggesting alternative options. This can lead to closed-mindedness that prevents individuals from exploring new possibilities and considering different perspectives.
6. Sports Allegiances:
Sports fans often develop deep loyalty to their favorite teams. This allegiance can lead to perseverance, even when evidence suggests that their team is performing poorly or making questionable decisions. Fans may continue to support their team and defend their beliefs, often attributing failures to external factors beyond their control.
These examples demonstrate how belief and perseverance can affect our decision-making processes and hinder our ability to objectively evaluate information. Overcoming belief perseverance requires a conscious effort to challenge our own beliefs, seek out alternative viewpoints, and consider evidence.
The Consequences of Belief Perseverance:
Belief and perseverance can have damaging consequences in our lives that we often don’t recognize. When we cling too tightly to our preconceptions and refuse to consider other perspectives, it limits our growth in many ways.
When you are unwilling to accept new ideas that challenge your beliefs, it leads to close-mindedness. You miss out on opportunities to expand your mind and gain new knowledge. Being open-minded, on the other hand, allows you to grow as a person and have more meaningful interactions with others.
If you are too stubborn to listen to different viewpoints from friends and family, it can damage your relationships. Rather than dismissing or arguing with others over differences of opinion, try to understand where they are coming from. Compromise and finding common ground are keys to healthy relationships.
When you are stuck in your ways, you may pass up chances to try new experiences that could enrich your life. Opportunities often come in unexpected forms that don’t align with your preconceptions. If you keep an open and curious mindset, you’ll be more likely to take advantage of opportunities, even if they challenge what you thought you knew.
Belief perseverance is a natural human tendency, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless against it. By developing self-awareness around your beliefs and making an effort to consider other perspectives with an open mind, you can overcome belief perseverance. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it gets easier. The rewards of personal growth, deeper relationships, and new life experiences will make the effort worthwhile.
Why We Cling to Beliefs Despite Contradictory Evidence
We all like to think we form our beliefs and opinions based on facts and evidence. But the truth is, we often cling to beliefs even when faced with clear evidence that contradicts them. This is known as belief perseverance, and it happens for a few reasons:
We have a tendency to seek out and believe information that confirms what we already think and ignore information that contradicts our beliefs. We follow news sources and social media accounts that align with our views and discount sources with opposing views as “biased. This selective exposure reinforces our beliefs and makes them feel even more true.
When we’re presented with evidence that challenges a belief, it creates an uncomfortable feeling known as cognitive dissonance. To resolve this discomfort, we may dismiss the evidence as flawed or unreliable or claim that it’s not relevant to our beliefs. It’s a way for our mind to reduce the contradiction and feel at ease again.
Our beliefs are often tied to our identity and values. Evidence that threatens our beliefs can feel like a personal attack, even if that’s not the intent. Rather than evaluate the evidence objectively, we react emotionally. We get defensive, angry, or anxious, and that emotional reaction further entrenches us in our beliefs.
Sunk cost fallacy
We’ve invested time, money, and resources into establishing and advocating for our beliefs. Abandoning those beliefs would mean acknowledging that the investment was wasted. So we continue defending the belief to avoid feeling like we made a mistake. The belief becomes less about facts and more about protecting our ego or self-image.
The desire to protect our beliefs is human nature. But if we want to have open and honest debates, we must make an effort to consider evidence objectively and be willing to accept when we’re wrong. It’s not easy, but it’s the only way society can progress and the truth can emerge. Evaluating beliefs based on facts, not emotions, is the path to wisdom.
Personal development and belief persistence
Overcoming belief Perseverance is integral to personal growth. When we cling to false beliefs in the face of contrary evidence, we limit our ability to learn and improve. Letting go of long-held assumptions opens us up to new ways of thinking and being.
Some of the most inspiring stories of transformation come from people who challenged their own preconceptions. For example, ex-Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper was raised to spread messages of hate, but through conversations with outsiders, she realized her beliefs were misguided. She left the church and now advocates for inclusion and kindness.
An Adaptive Mindset
Challenging belief Perseverance requires an open and curious mindset. We must humbly accept that we may be wrong, even about our most cherished beliefs. Approaching the world with a beginner’s mind will allow us to see things afresh.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What evidence do I have for what I believe?
- Are there alternative explanations I haven’t considered?
- How would I view this differently if I had been born in a different culture or time period?
Letting go of false beliefs is a lifelong process. We must continuously examine why we think what we think and make efforts to expand our perspectives. Reading widely from various sources, engaging in meaningful discussions with people different from us, and reflecting on our biases and assumptions are all ways to foster personal growth over the long run.
While belief change can be difficult and uncomfortable, it is necessary for progress. An open and curious mindset, a willingness to accept that we may be wrong, and continuous self-examination are keys to overcoming belief, perseverance, and becoming our best selves. Constantly re-evaluating what we think we know opens us up to new insights and allows us to adapt to an ever-changing world.
Cultural and social influences
Cultural norms and societal influences often perpetuate beliefs of perseverance. What a culture values and spreads through media, education, and daily interactions shapes how individuals think and the beliefs they hold onto.
Shared Cultural Beliefs
Certain beliefs are passed down through generations and become ingrained in a culture. For example, many cultures hold outdated beliefs about gender roles that dictate how people of each gender “should” behave. These beliefs are spread through cultural practices, media, and casual interactions until individuals accept them without question. Challenging or going against these culturally held beliefs can lead to social isolation or rejection.
Education and media
What people learn in school and see in the media also impacts their beliefs and perseverance. For instance, history lessons often leave out or misrepresent marginalized groups, promoting an inaccurate view of the past that lives on. The media frequently depicts idealized versions of culture, race, relationships, and more. Consuming these messages over time cements them as truth in people’s minds.
There is also pressure to conform to the dominant beliefs of one’s culture or social group. Individuals may cling to certain beliefs to fit in, even if evidence contradicts them. For example, teenagers are particularly prone to adopting the attitudes of their peers to gain acceptance. Adults likewise feel pressure to conform to beliefs that are popular in their social circles or communities to avoid standing out or facing backlash.
The beliefs we hold most stubbornly are usually those tied to our sense of identity and belonging. Our cultures, education, and social worlds shape what we accept as truth, often in ways that defy facts or reason. Recognizing how these influences perpetuate belief perseverance is the first step to thinking more critically about our own assumptions and embracing more evidence-based beliefs.
The role of confirmation Bias in belief persistence
Confirmation bias plays a significant role in belief perseverance. It refers to our tendency to seek out and favor information that confirms what we already believe while ignoring information that contradicts our preexisting notions.
We Surround Ourselves With Like-Minded People
It’s human nature to want to belong to and affiliate with those who share our values and beliefs. We follow people with similar ideologies on social media, and we tend to live in communities where most people vote the same way we do. This “echo chamber” effect reinforces what we already think is true and exposes us to little dissent or alternative viewpoints.
We interpret new information in a biased way.
Even when we’re presented with objective facts that contradict our beliefs, we’ll often find ways to distort them to fit what we already believe. We dismiss credible sources as “biased” if they disagree with us, but uncritically accept information that confirms what we want to believe. We ignore evidence that challenges us but seize on anything that supports us as indisputable proof.
Our identities are tied to our beliefs.
The beliefs we hold become an important part of our identity and sense of belonging. Accepting that we might be wrong about something important threatens our very sense of self. It’s psychologically painful to admit we were mistaken, so we twist our thinking into knots to avoid changing our minds.
The truth is, we are all prone to confirmation bias in some form. The good news is that we can take steps to broaden our thinking by exposing ourselves to different perspectives, fact-checking dubious claims, and trying to consider alternative interpretations of events. With conscious effort and an open, curious mindset, we can overcome our inclination toward perseverance. But first, we must recognize the role that confirmation bias plays in maintaining beliefs that may not align with the facts.
The Benefits of Changing Our Minds
Changing your beliefs and opinions in the face of new evidence is not a sign of weakness; it shows an open and thoughtful mind. While it can be difficult to accept that you were mistaken, the benefits of adapting your thinking make it worthwhile.
When you change your mind based on facts, you cultivate a growth mindset. Rather than sticking rigidly to your preconceptions, you form new neural connections in your brain that open you up to continued learning and development. People with a growth mindset tend to be more open-minded, flexible in their thinking, and willing to accept constructive criticism to improve themselves.
No one likes to feel that their opinions don’t matter or aren’t being heard. When you demonstrate that you are open to other perspectives and willing to evolve your stance, you build trust and mutual understanding. People will appreciate that you value them enough to seriously consider their input. Your openness and humility can help defuse tensions and bring people together.
Beliefs that persist in the face of contradictory evidence are not grounded in reality. When you change your mind based on facts, you make better-informed judgments and choices. You consider all relevant information objectively before determining the optimal path forward. While it may feel good in the moment to stubbornly stick to your guns, it often leads to poor outcomes. Adapting your thinking to the facts leads to wiser decisions and fewer regrets.
While it’s human nature to want to cling to familiar beliefs, embracing an open and curious mindset has significant benefits. When we change our minds for the right reasons, we grow as individuals, strengthen our relationships, and make better choices. Though it may feel uncomfortable, adapting your thinking to the facts is a vital skill that serves you well. Keep learning, questioning your assumptions, and striving to see the world as it really is.
Overcoming Belief Perseverance Bias
To overcome belief perseverance bias, you need to make a concerted effort to challenge your preexisting beliefs and assumptions. This isn’t easy, but with practice, you can train yourself to be more open-minded.
Seek out opposing views.
Expose yourself to perspectives that contradict your beliefs. Read books or articles from differing viewpoints, follow people with opposing ideas on social media, and engage in debates with others who have different stances. Try to understand the rationale and evidence behind their positions.
Question your assumptions.
We often accept beliefs without scrutinizing them. Make a habit of asking yourself questions like, Why do I believe this? What evidence supports it? Are there alternative explanations I haven’t considered? This kind of reflective thinking can reveal weaknesses and holes in your reasoning.
Consider alternative hypotheses.
Once you’ve identified your assumptions, hypothesize some alternatives. The truth is often complex, so multiple explanations could have merit. Think about other possibilities that you may have wrongly dismissed. Try reevaluating the evidence from different angles.
Stay open to new evidence.
New information may emerge that challenges your views. Be willing to acknowledge evidence that contradicts your beliefs rather than ignore it. Update your thinking based on facts, not biases or preconceptions. Staying open and curious, rather than rigid in your views, is key.
With regular practice of these techniques, you can overcome your natural tendency towards perseverance. It will allow you to form more well-reasoned, evidence-based judgments. And you’ll find yourself open to ideas you may have previously dismissed, gaining a broader, fairer perspective on issues that shape our world.
And so, there you have it. The human mind is a complex and fascinating thing. We all have beliefs that we hold tightly, even in the face of contradicting evidence. Don’t be too hard on yourself; we’re all guilty of confirmation bias and belief perseverance at some point.
The key is developing an awareness of these mental shortcuts and making an effort to consider alternate perspectives. Challenge your preexisting notions, seek out opposing views, and stay open-minded. While it may be difficult, overcoming these biases can lead to greater understanding, empathy, and progress. The truth is out there; we just have to be willing to see it.
- Why do we favor our existing beliefs? – The Confirmation Bias , explained. by Decision Lab Team
- What Is Belief Perseverance? Definition and Examples By Cynthia Vinney
- Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds and Beliefs Are so Hard to Change? by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
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