Humans Dismiss Facts that Run Counter to Their Worldview

While it would seem that factual disputes should be easily resolved with hard facts, according to a recent FastCompany article “things don’t work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone’s ideological worldview.”

Instead, it says, a person’s “political, religious, or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one’s willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.”

In other words, the human brain is hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t align with its worldview—even when they’re supported by hard evidence—a process scientists refer to as “motivated reasoning.” The article adds, “this very human tendency applies to all kinds of facts about the physical world, economic history, and current events.”

Denial of those ideas that don’t fit with someone’s worldview doesn’t stem from a lack of information, the article notes, but rather from political ideology: “A 2015 metastudy showed that ideological polarization over the reality of climate change actually increases with respondents’ knowledge of politics, science and/or energy policy.”

While denial is a natural phenomenon and part of human evolution, the article concludes, human cognition “is inseparable from the unconscious emotional responses that go with it.” When group interests or beliefs are threatened by “unwelcome factual information,” it says, “biased thinking becomes denial.”