Illusion of objectivity

It comes from the kind of silly stories like Italian secret pasta gardens; when people thought they can now grow their own pasta on the trees or Masked Marauders; a band, supposedly consisting out of Mick Jagger, Bob Dilan, John Lennon and Paul McCarthy that actually never existed but was sold to people as a joke by Rolling Stones magazine. Worth to mention are the Crop circles in England made by „aliens“ that in fact are called Doug and Dave. Coming to more difficult topics and conspiracy theories like Apollo moon landing, vaccines or more relevant these days – climate change. People will always be in two camps discussing these problems whether they are true events or just amusing hoax.

What makes people choose different sides? First of all, false information but the second reason that holds them on a specific side is motivated reasoning.

Jabberocky. crop circle in Switzerland

Motivated reasoning is an emotion-biased decision-making phenomenon that describes the role of motivation in cognitive processes such as decision-making and attitude change. It‘s when people cling to false beliefs even when presented with obvious evidence. Motivated reasoning is the mean to fight cognitive resonance that feeling of discomfort that we experience when confronted by contradictory information, especially on matters that directly relate to our well-being. That‘s the most important trigger in activating motivated reasoning – feeling threat to our well-being. Climate change is a big threat given the temperature rising, ice in Antarctica melting and all. But the actual damage to single individual is not significant and in the far future. But if it‘s accepted that climate is changing then people need to take some measure and do something about it which means cutting on carbon dioxide (cars, busses, airplanes etc., and damn those are fast and comfortable), green electricity (expensive to get and doesn‘t work as good), eating differently (food industries and factories kill planet earth), recycling, composting and so on.

Threats come in different forms that bring out different kind of conclusions to people. There are conclusions that help to boost or to protect person‘s self-esteem, like when IQ test shows the average numbers but participant expected something else and try to explain that those kind of tests rarely are valid and correct. Also the conclusion for better future perspectives, when smokers dispel all the scientific evidence against smoking giving the examples of the people who smoked their whole life and lived till their 80‘s or people that die from disease at young age. Third type of conclusions is related with strong beliefs and attitudes. For example, if your friend Richard that you share worldview, interests and opinions, states that Sasquatch exists and it‘s not just some kind of hoax by China, you are more likely to believe that he says true even without digging in for further information on the topic. People blur the lines between moral and factual judgment. For people who identify strongly with one side of the political spectrum or the other, it can feel like their opponents are willfully ignoring the facts. But right or left, both sides believe their positions are grounded in evidence.

Moral reasoners cannot deny the reality and overwhelming evidence though, they still need to uphold the illusion of objectivity. But people are more persuaded by the facts that support their preferred conclusion and find them stronger, the related facts that oppose their beliefs seemingly are more inconsistent and less valuable.

The classical example is when a person attributes his successes internally, to his own abilities and talents, but their failures externally, to situation, weather conditions etc. All this is also in protection of self-view, positive self-image. People are capable of being thoughtful and rational but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.

Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die. The Pennsylvania gazette

This technology era is the best time for moral reasoning when internet give people infinite opportunities of spreading the information that can reach thousands and millions of people and the term fake news is widely used. It‘s not only Jon Snow that knows nothing. Everyone is smarter than the other and there’s mass confusion all over the world. The least people can do in solving this problem of blindly believing and/or following is to educate themselves (if possible) and the next generation of checking the information behind the facts and check the source the information comes from. Learn to make the differentiation of reliable source from those not worth trusting.

Laura Babaityte

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