Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds
In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones. Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. “Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.” A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted.
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