A new study illuminates how rapid, involuntary mental processes kick in when responding to statements that correspond with an already held viewpoint, according to a study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows how people’s tendency to remain entrenched in their worldviews is supported by their automatic cognitive “reflexes.”
The team led by Dr. Michael Gilead, head of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at BGU, found that study participants verified the grammatical accuracy of statements about political topics, personal tastes and social issues much more quickly when they matched their opinion.
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,” and indicate as quickly 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.
According to Dr. Gilead, “In order 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. 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.”
Dr. Gilead collaborated on this research with Moran Sela, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr. Anat Maril, a professor in The Hebrew University’s Department of Cognitive Science.
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