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People stop looking for information if initial evidence points towards their assumptions

Posted June 30, 2019

People are far from perfect. We all have our own quirks and flaws and everyone knows that. However, sometimes it is difficult to recognize them. For example, did you know you might be wrong about something and gathering information can reveal that? Scientists from UCL found that people do not tend to look for more evidence if the first clues support their own assumptions.

People tend to stop looking for evidence if the first clues support their opinions. Image credit: Christopher Michel via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Internet is a great source of information. However, information is usually subjective – objective truths is somewhat of a flimsy concept. This essentially means that the difference between correct and incorrect ideas is just a different number of supporting arguments and facts. In other words, in order to confirm or reject your own assumptions you should collect a significant amount of different information. But do you?

Scientists askes 84 volunteers to play an online categorisation game. It was really simple and they could use all the help they needed – they could gather as much evidence as they wanted to help them make judgements. In fact, they were motivated to make correct choices and avoid mistakes. This means that people should be looking for more evidence in order to make correct choices and get paid more. However, researchers found that people stopped looking for evidence if the first clues supported their initial ideas.

This is nothing new – we knew we have this flaw for decades. The simple fact of the matter is that we always consider ourselves right and we think that our assumptions must be correct as well. That is why we weigh the evidence that supports our opinions more than the ones that deny it. This leads to a quick decline in motivation to actually search for truth – if the first evidence support person’s opinions, they stop looking for more. And that’s the difference between a scientist, who conducts reviews of thousands of studies before reaching some kind of conclusions, followed by a statement of limitations, and a person, who repeats the same previously debunked false arguments.

Essentially, this study confirms what was found in previous studies too – people will stop looking for truth after reaching desired beliefs. Tali Sharot, senior author or the study, said: “Today, a limitless amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. However, because people are likely to conduct less through searches when the first few hits provide desirable information, this wealth of data will not necessarily translate to more accurate beliefs”.

And that’s a problem. It’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to prove yourself wrong and change your beliefs. As long as you know a lot of information confirming your beliefs and a lot of information that would deny it, you are a better person. Ability to search for information quickly is akin to a superpower so use it wisely.


Source: UCL

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