By Shen Gao
A preliminary psychological study from researchers suggests that the reason that some people reject science-backed data and topics may involve more than just ignorance.
Climate change due to human activity, safety of childhood vaccines, and Darwin’s theory of evolution are just some of the topics on which the global scientific community has reached consensus. Nevertheless, these ideas have often been attacked as hoaxes, especially in regard to recent events.
Researchers from Yale University, the University of Queensland, the University of Oregon, and the University of Kent conducted a study using surveys, experiments, observational studies, and meta-analyses, which identified several important factors that go into whether a person accepts or rejects science-based facts.
Some of these psychological factors include one’s personal identifications and attachment to one’s beliefs, all of which can cloud judgment and evaluation of information. One important thing to note is that people who are skeptical of science-based facts are often just as educated and interested in science as those who believe in these facts.
The problem lies in the way that the information is processed inside a person’s brain. Matthew Hornsey, one of the researchers, describes it as thinking like a lawyer—”cheery picking” pieces of information in order to come to a conclusion that is personally accepted.
“People will take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief including their religious belief, their political beliefs, and even simple personal beliefs such as whether they are good at choosing a web browser,” Troy Campbell, another researcher, notes.
In essence, some people will ignore facts that go against their beliefs, render them as less relevant, and cling to information they find that will better align with their personal beliefs and experience— whether this information is true or false.
A way to better persuade others of science-based facts is to identify the motivation or “attitude roots” that someone has, Hornsey states in American Psychologist. “Rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes directly, tailor the message so that it aligns with their motivation. So with climate skeptics, for example, you find out what they can agree on and then frame climate messages to align with these.”
Hornsey, Campbell, Dan Kahan, and Robbie Sutton presented their research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention last week in San Antonio.