A very good article in the New Yorker (vía @dcabo) recently analyzed a highly troubling issue: Why do people persist in believing things that just are not true?
The article reviewed an in-depth study carried out by a team of pediatricians and political scientists over the last three years. The team had followed a large group of parents, all of whom had at least one underage child, to test a simple hypothesis: Could various pro-vaccination campaigns change parental attitudes toward vaccines?
The results were dismal. None of the campaigns or messages worked. The key lesson coming out from this frustrating exercise was that "when there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur."
I have thought of this in light of the recent European election results. Are we being naïvely optimistic, utopic almost, when we assert that higher quality, evidence-based public debating will lead us to more reasonable collective decision making?
The above-mentioned article offers a surprising path forward: self-affirmation. Rational persuasion does not seem to work when it affects deeply rooted beliefs. On the contrary, recalling a time when you felt good about yourself seems to make people more broad-minded about highly politicized issues.
These could be important findings to keep in mind when trying to denounce electoral manifesto proposals as ridiculous as making a rating agency's work based on 'democratic principles', to name one of a very ample number of senseless proposals currently on offer in the democratic election market.