Study Suggests that People Internalize their Values as Facts
Research Suggests We Percieve our Opinions as Facts
Posted January 7, 2010
Do people live in alternative universes? Is a fact to one person not a fact to another person? To an extent, research suggests that the answer is "yes."
In an earlier post, I wrote about FMRi research that sort of addressed this. The same area of the brain that is responsible for finding errors also is activated when people hear opposing political views. It is as if the person's brain is saying, "error found; this does not compute."
A recent study I headed (with Jamie Goldenberg of the University of South Florida) tested these "values as facts" ideas. We wanted to see if merely suggesting that a value or opinion is an opinion would lead people to show increased pursuit of structure and clarity.
According to the Meaning Maintanence Model, people respond to threats to their meaning system in one area by showing increased pursuit of meaning in another area. So for instance, one study found that merely switching experimenters in the middle of the study (they looked similar, but different) caused people to defend their beliefs more. Another study found that making people read absurdist literature (that is unpredictable) made people learn patterns more quickly.
For our purposes, this suggests that if people percieve their opinions as facts (truths) they should react to them being treated as opinions with an increased pursuit of structure and clarity.
In our study, half the (theistic) participants read that belief in God is an opinion, because others don't believe in God. The other half read that God's existence is a fact, regardless of others' beliefs. Then, participants completed a series of number patterns (e.g., 1 4 8 12 8 4 _____ ). They also responded to a series of statements (e.g., "Crying often is related to sadness. Does crying cause sadness?") and were asked to what extent they were true.
As expected, the group that was told their value was an opinion were better at doing the math patterns and rated scenarios with more causality (just because something is related, doesn't mean it caused it. Ice cream eating is related to murder).
In other words, merely suggesting that someone's belief was not a fact, but just an opinion, lead people to seek out and find more structure and clarity.
Who knows, there is now frost on the ground in Tampa Fl (last snow thirty years or so ago) and I am up before 8 am. These bizarro circumstances could lead me, implicitly and without awareness, to seek structure and clarity in my environment and beliefs.
And maybe, I wrote this blog, in part, to restore some order. I'd rather do that than clean the house up a bit!