Is an “open mind” just not built into human nature?

So lets kick off this site with an thought provoking question that is much broader than issues with energy but certainly applies, as I will discuss.

I was reading this interesting article which reviews some studies in human psychology that imply that we approach new information with all our inherent biases and either accept it if it fits our worldview, or find reasons to rationalize why we can reject it if it doesn’t.  From the post:

In other words, people rejected the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views—and thus the relative risks inherent in each scenario. A hierarchal individualist finds it difficult to believe that the things he prizes … could lead to outcomes deleterious to society. Whereas egalitarian communitarians tend to think that the free market causes harm, that patriarchal families mess up kids, and that people can’t handle their guns. The study subjects weren’t “anti-science”—not in their own minds, anyway. It’s just that “science” was whatever they wanted it to be.

So it begs the question, is an open mind a myth?  It is a relevant question as we struggle to understand why a large proportion of the public as well as the new congress don’t seem to value scientific conclusions (and many just flat out deny them).  How do we change this?  Apparently, for republicans, the news can’t come from scientists:

In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.

We aren’t business or religious leaders, but we’re still going to give it a shot here.  Maybe someone will get something out of it.

This entry was posted in climate change, science, sociology. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is an “open mind” just not built into human nature?

  1. Ankur Jalota says:

    I don’t think it’s human nature – the mind is plastic. Most parents\societies don’t raise children to be truly independent minded.

    Also, science studies are not deemed as truth – people see science studies disproving each other constantly. While this is healthy for science, it makes science studies seem less reputable to one who is not an expert in the domain – especially when you’re biased against it.

  2. Paul says:

    It is very good point to realize that we aren’t independent minded (I agree!). Often we think all we need to do is present a convincing truth to someone and they will believe it, but the reality is that people are much more complex and things aren’t so simple. We need to appreciate these complexities if we are going to engage in consensus building and enable policy and societal changes.
    Science is open to interpretation…both by societies and in light of new information. However there is general scientific consensus on certain things that I don’t think anyone needs to be an expert to appreciate. Examples include cigarette smoke and your health, and I would argue, that climate change is real and anthropogenic. Sure, new information and interpretation can arise that may change this consensus, but the risk seems high enough to act based on current knowledge.
    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Pingback: more on climate change and social attitudes | Energy and the Future

  4. Pingback: Energy planning needs to include the “human component” | Energy and the Future

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