Most people have enough self awareness to recognize and admit that they have an ideological perspective, that is, a particular viewpoint of the world around them, and in fact, believe that this viewpoint has been crafted and developed through their observations of the world. However, most people do not seem to realize that their viewpoint is, in actuality, influencing and obscuring their view of the world.
Two studies have shown that people tend to ignore facts when those facts challenge their ideological perspective and also that people tend to believe false information when it conforms to their position. See the ars technica article where I found these studies. You can find links to the studies as well. The studies limited their focus to political beliefs, but I think it’s not too much of a stretch to expand that and assume it applies to all beliefs.
The implications of these finds are incredible.
First of all, it means that some people really cannot be argued with. It does not matter how sensible the argument, some people will hold on to their viewpoint, regardless. I think we’ve all encountered people like that.
Second, essentially people believe what they want to believe, and therefore, they aren’t seeing reality. Reality is twisted to fit into their idea of what reality should be, or else, it is simply ignored.
Third, this explains, in part, why so many politicians are so shallow. If the public hears a false rumor that they want to believe, they will believe it. Therefore the politician really has no incentive to conform to reality. Truth and deception have no bearing on his livelihood, he only needs to be the proud owner a favorable perception.
In short, the truth doesn’t matter.
There are quite a few extreme examples that can found with a cursory glance. I think most of us can agree that the Earth is not flat, and yet there are still those that believe exactly that. See The Flat Earth Society. And of course, conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen, as are fundamentalist religions. There are the Holocaust deniers, and my new favorite, the global warming deniers.
So… why should this be? My hunch is that people cannot deal with uncertainty. If you must re-evaluate your position on the world every time you sit down to watch the news, you’d quickly see that you don’t know much at all and you’d quickly tire of your own flip-flops. And no one likes to feel stupid and ignorant. Oh, the irony!
It takes a lot of work to construct your position and once in place, it sort of functions as a short cut. Instead of thinking deeply about this issue or that, people refer back to their own biases and prejudices and come to the fastest, least boat-rocking conclusion possible.