Belief-based thinking: Irrational fear of GMOs and Donald Trump as President.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that what drives people’s decision making process is their yearning to believe they are in control of everything in their lives and that there are easy solutions to complex problems. Neither of those are true. And yet, there are many examples of people “going with their gut” or believing anecdotal reports over expert evidence.

Examples of this behavior can be seen in many areas ranging from believing acupuncture works [1],[2] to fear of  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) [3] to those without celiac disease believing avoiding gluten is healthy. [4] None of those three examples is true, but convincing someone who believes they are will be challenging. The reason is that their position is based in a personal belief they are true and not in any objective evidence that they are.

It’s hard to convince a person with a belief-based opinion to change that opinion by providing facts. Just try convincing a Trump supporter that the President is wrong on any issue and you’re likely to get a response that includes not caring about the facts because the President makes them feel good. No matter how overwhelming those facts to the contrary may be, it is unlikely they will displace an opinion that is rooted in emotion. In fact, it’s possible the opposite may occur in what has been defined as a “backfire effect” where providing contrary facts actually causes strengthening of a belief-based opinion. [5]

The other problem in decision making is that people feel that every problem has a simple solution that they can personally identify and implement on their own. However, as H. L. Mencken observed in 1920, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” [6] In some cases there isn’t a simple solution. That may be hard for some to accept so they substitute a belief-based solution that is unsupported by any facts. That imparts a sense of control that empowers regardless of the efficacy of the solution.

A belief-based approach to life may be seductive because it is easy. One does not need to commit to the effort required to be a critical thinker or to have mindset of a skeptic. It is far easier to exploit motivated reasoning and find “facts” that appear to support a position based in belief. [7] Equally easy and equally wrong is to fall prey to the trap of logical fallacies. For example, your physician may not be able to relieve your leg pain so you take matters into your own hands and visit an acupuncturist. Even if you might accept that there’s no scientific evidence to show that acupuncture works, you may believe it works because it’s been around for centuries – a classic example of the appeal to antiquity logical fallacy.

The way to combat the false beliefs that acupuncture works, GMOs are dangerous, or Donald Trump is competent, is to accept that such beliefs are based in emotion and not fact. The next step is to then commit to challenging yourself to spend the time and effort to objectively assess the evidence and be willing to concede your long-held beliefs may be just that – beliefs.

It’s perfectly acceptable to reject the succor of “ignorance is bliss” and approach all decisions with a healthy dose of skepticism and objective, critical thinking. If you do, you may find yourself offended by GMO-free labels on food and offended by Donald Trump being president. Both are nonsensical.

 

[1] https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/reference/acupuncture/

[2] https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/acupuncture-doesnt-work/

[3] http://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/mark-lynas/gmo-safety-debate-over

[4] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/going-gluten-free-just-because-heres-what-you-need-to-know-201302205916

[5] http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/Misinformation_and_Fact-checking.pdf

[6] https://books.google.com/books?id=hy47AAAAYAAJ&q=well-known#v=snippet&q=well-known&f=false

[7] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney

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