Psychology of believing

While the study of fallacies may help us to uncover defective reasoning, the study of the psychology of believing explains its maddening persistence. Take the following, for instance:

>Psychologists coined the term “pluralistic ignorance” in the 1930s to refer to this type of misperception — more a social than an individual phenomenon — to which even smart people might fall victim. A study back then had surprisingly found that most kids in an all-white fraternity were privately in favor of admitting black members, though most assumed, wrongly, that their personal views were greatly in the minority. Natural temerity made each individual assume that he was the lone oddball.

>A similar effect is common today on university campuses, where many students think that most other students are typically inclined to drink more than they themselves would wish to; researchers have found that many students indeed drink more to fit in with what they perceive to be the drinking norm, even though it really isn’t the norm. The result is an amplification of a minority view, which comes to seem like the majority view.

>In pluralistic ignorance, as researchers described it in the 1970s, “moral principles with relatively little popular support may exert considerable influence because they are mistakenly thought to represent the views of the majority, while normative imperatives actually favored by the majority may carry less weight because they are erroneously attributed to a minority.”

Interesting explanation for the “false equivalence” view indicative of contemporary media. Take any view, no matter how marginal, and you’ll still get the sense that it’s backed by a substantial number of people. The entire article is worth reading. Also on that subject, Gilovich’s How We Know What Isn’t So is worth studying closely.

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2 Responses to Psychology of believing

  1. pm says:

    i think he was too genrous with the andrea mitchell stuff. that wasn’t “pluralistic ignorance,” it was just plain old lying at worst and irresponsible journalism at best. didn’t dan rather get fired for that?

  2. Batocchio says:

    Thanks, fascinating stuff.

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