An image of the human brain.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Quick, involuntary mental processes kick in when responding to statements that correspond with an already-held viewpoint, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The research, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows how people’s tendency to remain entrenched in their worldviews is supported by their automatic cognitive “reflexes.”
Dr. Michael Gilead, head of Ben-Gurion University’s social cognitive neuroscience laboratory, and his colleagues found that study participants verified the grammatical accuracy of statements about political topics, personal tastes and social issues much more quickly when they were personally of the same opinion.
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He collaborated on the study with Moran Sela, a doctoral student in Hebrew University’s psychology department, and Prof. Anat Maril of its cognitive science department.
In a series of experiments, the researchers asked participants to respond to various opinion statements, such as “the Internet has made people more isolated” or “the Internet has made people more sociable.” They then had to indicate as fast as possible if the grammar of the sentence was correct or not. Later, they were asked if they agreed with each statement. Participants identified statements to be grammatically correct more quickly when they agreed with them, which revealed a rapid, involuntary effect of agreement on cognitive processing.
Gilead noted that “to make informed decisions, people need to be able to consider the merits and weaknesses of different opinions and adapt to new information.
“This involuntary, ‘reflex-like’ tendency to consider things we already believe in as being true, might dampen our ability to think things through in a rational way,” he explained. “Future studies could explore how other factors, such as acute stress or liberal or conservative viewpoints, affect this tendency to accept or reject opinions in a ‘knee-jerk’ manner.”