Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds


Theory on why we behave irrationally: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats, it’s a trait that should have evolutionarily been selected against. But it has not been. Socialization to our tribes may have been the greater survival factor that reason facilitates.


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