People Listen to What They Like To Believe


People always tend to listen to those who tell them what they like to believe and always ignore those who tell them what they prefer not to be true. A group of researchers noted in their new paper in the Journal of the European Economic Association, published by Oxford University Press, said that like-minded people tend to make one another more biased when they exchange beliefs with one another.

Some people may believe that people form decisions based on evidence and experience alone and previous research demonstrated that decision makers have “motivated beliefs.”


Motivated beliefs and the reasoning that leads to them can generate serious biases, the researchers noted. Motivated beliefs are speculated to explain the proliferation of misinformation on online forums. The researchers used laboratory experiments to study if such biases in beliefs grew more severe when people exchanged these beliefs with one another. The researchers paired subjects based on their score on an IQ test such that both members either both had scores above the median or both had scores below the median. The subjects then exchanged beliefs concerning a proposition both wanted to believe was true that they were in the high IQ group. The researchers found that people who are pessimistic that they are in the high IQ group tend to become significantly more optimistic when matched with a more optimistic counterpart.


An optimistic person is not, however, likely to change his beliefs if matched with a more pessimistic counterpart. This was particularly strong for low IQ people, where it produces particularly severe biases. Overall, the results suggest that bias amplification occurs because people selectively attribute higher informational value to social signals that reinforce their pre-existing motivation to believe.

The researchers also provided the subjects an unbiased piece of information about which IQ group subjects were in. This was highly effective at removing the biases caused by the initial exchange of beliefs. The results showed that unbiased, reliable sources of information might reduce motivated beliefs in settings like echo chambers and financial markets. Ryan Oprea, one of the authors said that the experiment supported a lot of popular suspicions about why biased beliefs might be getting worse in the age of the internet. Stating that a lot of information is got from social media and no one knows much about its quality, the author noted that people are often forced to decide for themselves how accurate various opinions and sources of information are and how much stock to put in them.



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