The Backfire Effect

The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

The backfire effect occurs when, in the face of contradictory evidence, established beliefs do not change but actually get stronger. When people are shown evidence they may be wrong, they not only discount that evidence, they become even more extreme in their original belief.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do this instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you.

Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens those misconceptions instead. Over time, the backfire effect makes you less skeptical of those things that allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.

Everyone has experienced the frustration of bringing up pertinent facts, in the middle of an argument, and having those facts disregarded. Perhaps the big mistake was not arguing, but bringing up facts in the first place.

Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.

Summing-up: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” isn’t just a maxim for shady politicians and journalists. It’s also the way people often live their lives. The Backfire Effect shows why you can’t use facts to win an argument.

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