Two years ago, in an issue of the Hammock Idea Email, I wrote about research into why people aren’t convinced when presented with irrefutable evidence that something they believe in, is false. As Donald Trump’s supporters are exhibiting such a pattern — even he admitted it with that remark about shooting a pistol while on 5th Ave. — here’s an excerpt from that Idea Email:
Social scientists are only now beginning to comprehend why people refuse to believe evidence that challenges their existing beliefs. In 2006, political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler identified a phenomenon they called the “backfire effect.” They showed that “efforts to debunk inaccurate political information can leave people more convinced that false information is true than they would have been otherwise,” according to the New York Times.
They now have conducted similar research related to healthcare beliefs like childhood vaccination fears and have discovered the same type of backfire effect to scientific evidence that differs from people’s existing beliefs. “Giving people corrected information is often ineffective with the people whose minds we’d like to change, and in some cases it actually can make the problem worse,” Nyhan recently told NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam. “It’s much harder to change people’s minds than we might have thought.”
While not fully understood, a leading theory on why people cling to long-held, yet incorrect, beliefs is that such beliefs contribute to our sense of who we are are and even can be a factor in our self-esteem. So when someone presents us facts disproving what we believe, we may subconsciously fight back against the new information because it damages something about our self identity.
I went on to suggest that marketers should focus on customers’ needs than attacking their beliefs. But now, in hindsight, I never imagined people would embrace Donald Trump as part of their self identity and would believe in him even after discovering he is a villain out of a cartoon.