Why Your Brain Avoids Information It Doesn’t Agree With
The curious thing about curiosity is that we tend to seek out information that tells us what we already believe.
Our brains are programmed to construct a robust model of how the world works and then fine-tune it. As we learn, some circuits get hardened and reinforced and some wither away. The hardened circuits are our short cuts. This means that when we’re standing in Starbucks and see a cylindrical, liquid-filled shape on the counter, we don’t have to spend too long working out what it is. One of these short cuts will tell us it’s a cup of coffee.
Deconstructing this edifice too many times takes a huge amount of resources. We’re not designed for endless self-questioning – which is probably why Alain de Botton has, at the time of writing, almost no hair left. Instead, we look for information that builds on the model we have.
While our fact-filtering brains are great for working out where the nearest Americano is, they don’t make for very good political debate. Once people have aligned themselves with a particular party, there’s very little you can do to change their opinion. They’ll simply “select out” your most compelling arguments and merrily continue believing what they believe. We love putting opposing political pundits together in TV debates but when was the last time you saw them reach a consensus?
If you’re interested in the truth, it turns out the worst thing to do is to assign yourself a “stance” on an issue. The more you care about your cause, the harder it is to properly engage with the arguments of your opponent.
Still curious? Check out How Our Brains Filter Information and What do you do when the evidence says you’re wrong?
If you want to make better decisions, you should read Judgment in Managerial Decision Making.