Why facts don’t always change thinking- The Backfire Effect

Our experiences help us develop our own world view or beliefs. New experiences not only help us strengthen that same world view but also at times help us modify the existing. But seldom so.

When an argument, rationale, information, data is given to us as evidence that contradicts our belief, we very often, instead of acknowledging the new information and adjusting our world view, end up rejecting this evidence and strengthen our own argument in favor of our existing belief. Cognitive biases have persuasive influence on our thinking and therefore it is important and interesting to understand them.

Some of the common biases students suffer from are-

The halo effect bias

When they believe that what the other person is saying or representing is right and acceptable This other person can be someone more smarter, intelligent or simply someone they are in awe of.

The ostrich effect bias

Nearing a deadline and work no where complete. A common phenomenon. But instead of getting their act together, they tend to procrastinate further, delaying work, not addressing the problem at hand, hoping that all will fall in place on its own. But not asking for help, lest the teacher thinks less of them.

Backfire effect bias

A cognitive bias that makes them hold on to their belief more strongly when presented with evidence that is contrary to their beliefs . For example, parents feel that a certain friend of their child may be a wrong influence. Or a teacher compares two students with the hope that the low performing student will be motivated by the high performing student. In either of the case, the student gets more defensive and more resolute about his own thinking and rejects all arguments and evidence presented.

Pessimism bias

The belief that things will not go well even if they try very hard to do things right. Many times students feel this about exams or subjects.

So therefore,

Giving facts to disprove or remove the bias from the mind does not always work. Discussing issues, having conversations, nudging students to participate in decisions, questioning them in a way that can help them think can help mitigate biases.

And also,

developing meta-cognition skills of reflecting and analyzing their own thinking can help overcome biases.

Biases work against our goals. Specially if they restrict our thinking.






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