Belief perseverance comes about when people tend to believe in certain things with an unwavering faith, and they refuse to change those beliefs even when proved wrong. Interestingly, this bias affects most individuals at some point or the other. Let us explore this concept further.
Confirmation Bias Vs. Belief Perseverance
Belief perseverance and confirmation bias are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for, interpret, and remember information according to your beliefs, whereas belief perseverance is said to be a state wherein a person refuses to change his beliefs even though his beliefs might be proven wrong.
Belief perseverance is a concept that highlights the tendency of people to hold on to their set beliefs, theories, and ideas even though there might be explicit, incriminating evidence that suggests otherwise. To state an example that you can relate to, have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re trying to change your friend’s opinion about a social, scientific, or political issue, and you’re constantly met with failure because your friend refuses to budge from his set views? So much so that even if you provide strong evidence that suggests his ideas are wrong, he will simply continue to believe what he always has.
This concept has been studied through several experiments, and the results have always been rather interesting. In this PsycholoGenie article, we will go through this concept in greater detail and provide you with examples and other details of the studies conducted in this area.
How Belief Perseverance Affects Us
Holding on to set theories and beliefs on the basis of unfounded information and in the light of contradictory proof, not only proves that belief perseverance exists, but that our belief system is not simply formed on the basis of facts and logical information, but to a large extent on how we feel about ourselves, about others, and about other general theories. Though this unwavering belief can help in many ways, most other times, it forms a barrier which prevents us from making the right decisions. Examples of the same will be highlighted in the following section.
You’re an excellent cook and people always compliment you on your dishes. But on one particular occasion, you happen to burn the rice you’re cooking; this does not mean that you’re a bad cook or that you have to question your belief about being a good cook. In this case, the belief perseverance has allowed you to restore your faith in your cooking and carry on.
However, there are instances when belief perseverance acts as a barrier. For example, a man has met with 4 accidents during a span of a month, and yet, he continues to believe that he is an excellent driver.
Or let’s say that your friend has been dating a guy who treats her very badly, and while everyone around her can see this and have been telling her the same, she simply refuses to break up with him because she believes he loves her too, and he will change.
In both instances, the person does not take cognizance of anything that contradicts his/her belief system, which then has a negative effect on his life, because he is unable to take logical decisions.
The Varied Types
There are three main types of belief perseverance, namely,
► Social impressions
► Naive theories
These impressions refer to the beliefs that we harbor about ourselves. These have to do with our belief about our musical abilities, athletic skills, body image, confidence, academic capabilities, and the like. This belief system includes both positive and negative beliefs. For example, someone might be a good dancer, but he has a strong belief that he can’t dance, and it cannot be shaken in spite of people complimenting him. A mistaken belief such as this one can have serious consequences and can lead to a skewed view of oneself. On the other hand, an exaggerated view of self can also lead to problems.
These impressions refer to the beliefs that people have about others. These could be based on a one-time, previous experience (either negative or positive) that people have about others and form an opinion, which leads into forming a belief. These can be formed with just about any person.
These impressions are based on one’s belief about how the world works. Naive theories largely correspond with social theories―the belief about people, how they think, behave, and interact with others. These theories go on to include major stereotypes steeped in society that have to do with a number of issues about religion, teenagers, communities, professions, and other beliefs that may even include causes of war, what gives rise to poverty and violence, and the like.
Study by Ross, Lepper, and Hubbard
One of the first studies on belief perseverance was undertaken by L. Ross, Lepper, and Hubbard, in 1975. In this experiment, subjects were asked to judge whether the suicide notes provided for study were authentic or fictitious. They were told that this would determine their social sensitivity and ability to empathize. After their findings were recorded, the subjects were randomly divided into 2 groups. The first group was told that they scored very well, and the second were told that they performed poorly. After this, both groups were debriefed yet again and were told that they were given false feedback to test their reactions and that none of them performed ‘well’ or ‘poorly’. They were once again asked to judge how they had fared in their recordings of whether the letters were authentic or false.
What the researchers found was that even though the subjects were told that the feedback of their performance being good or poor was false, people continued to believe in it, and this affected their judgment about themselves. Such that, those who had been given a ‘good’ review felt that they had performed extremely well in judging the false and authentic letters, whereas those who had been given a ‘poor’ review felt that they had not judged the letters well enough.
Study by Ross, Lepper, Strack, and Steinmetz
In a study conducted by Ross, Lepper, Strack, and Steinmetz, in 1977, subjects were asked to read two psychiatric case studies. In the first, the patient was said to have committed suicide after leaving the navy, and in the second, the patient was said to have run for elective office. They were then asked to explain why the patient had acted in the way he did, and their answers were recorded. In both cases, the subjects were able to provide a befitting explanation, complete with proper reasoning for why these two incidents occurred. After this, they were debriefed that the patients had not really committed suicide or joined the elective office. They were then asked to give the probable outcome of these patients lives. Interestingly, the subjects reiterated the same outcome as they had done before, in spite of being debriefed that no course of action about the patient’s life was recorded.
Overcoming Belief Perseverance
Like we mentioned before, there are times when belief perseverance can help in reiterating our beliefs in oneself; however, most other times, harboring this concept can hold one back from achieving success in life, because one is so wrapped up in the way things should be rather than what they are. Which is why it is important to overcome the same. The following are pointers that will help you to do exactly that.
Be Open to Change
The first and foremost thing to do is to be open to change. Be willing to learn new things and absorb newer ideas. Make a conscious effort to test your beliefs by understanding varied viewpoints.
Don’t Be Influenced by Experiences
Don’t be stuck in the past, in the sense that, do not allow one negative experience to influence all future outcomes. You should, on the other hand, learn to envision the future and not let the limited experiences from the past determine all your future decisions.
Ask For an Opinion
If you ever feel that you tend to be biased due to this belief and that your decisions tend to be one-sided, it is always advisable to consult a friend or colleague. Ask them to offer you a different viewpoint such that it can broaden your horizon.
Whenever you find yourself forming an opinion quickly, pause for a minute, and question whether it is the right way to think. Gather more evidence and data about things that support your viewpoint, as well as others. Only once you are convinced of the right path, should you be willing to go ahead with the decision.
Be Stern with Yourself
It is easy to form an opinion because our intuition is quick to form predictions. Unfortunately, these are not always accurate. Hence, when faced with a tough decision, make sure to study the other alternatives that are around and only after that settle on a decision.
While belief perseverance can definitely help you by providing you with the required confidence to carry on in life; most other times, it can cause a mental block and prevent you from taking the right decisions. It is exactly due to this reason that one must look to overcome the same.