The Neuron Presents - Belief Bias

Topic: Belief Bias

Posted by: Allen

Key Terms:

  • Belief Bias: the tendency for one's preexisting beliefs to distort logical reasoning, sometimes by making invalid conclusions seem valid, or valid conclusions seem invalid.

  • Belief Perseverance: Clinging to one's initial conceptions after the basis on which they were formed has been discredited.


We say some people do not express bias. We believe that what we think is right and that there is no bias to what we think. So let me give you an example. If you studied math, you would learn that: If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C. Let's see if that logic is right in this situation.

Premise 1: Democrats support free speech.
Premise 2: Dictators are not democrats.
Conclusion: Dictators do not support free speech.

It seems logical doesn't it? Perhaps, that's what we all believe. However, if the conclusion seems logical, you are experiencing belief bias, the tendency for our beliefs to distort our logic. But how can you conclude this so easily? There are possibilities that others, even dictators, can believe in free speech; but it is our belief bias that makes us conclude that way.

Consider another example.

Premise 1: Robins have feathers.
Premise 2: Chickens are not robins
Conclusion: Chickens do not have feathers.

Doesn't make sense does it? Therefore, we more easily see the illogic of conclusions that run counter to our beliefs that of those that agree with our beliefs.

Belief perseverance is our tendency to cling to our beliefs in the face of contrary evidences. Charles Lord and his colleagues revealed how belief perseverance often fuels social conflict by mentioning their studies about people with opposing views of capital punishment. One side was supporting and the other refuting the claim that the death penalty deters crime. Each side was more impressed by the study that supported its beliefs, and each readily disputed the other study. Thus, showing the pro and anti capital punishment groups the same mixed evidence actually increased their disagreements.

So if you want to rein in the belief perseverance phenomenon, simply, consider the opposite.

However, it doesn't mean that your ideas cannot change over time.
The belief perseverance phenomenon does not preclude changing our beliefs. It's just that once beliefs form and get justified, it takes more compelling evidences to change them than it did to create them.

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