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Researchers: For Many Voters, It’s Better to be Stupid than Right. No, Really?

Posted on July 12 2010 4:00 pm
For almost 30 years, David has been involved in the online community, blogging, and posting commentary on a huge variety of issues. As a career web designer, David spends his time around Philadelphia creating, programming, and debating.

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Woman pulling hair out.

Na! Na! Na! I'm not listening! I can't hear you!

We’ve all been there: You engage in a debate with a friend or family member who, it seems, would rather try to incessantly and relentlessly convince you that – say, water ain’t wet – than admit he or she’s wrong. It happens all the time. At home, in business, and especially in politics – people will spew the craziest stuff and forgo the adage, “It’s better to speak nothing and have people suspect you’re an idiot than to say something that confirms it.” It happens often at political blogs like NRB and conspiracy theorists live and breathe by this mindset.

Now, political scientists at University of Michigan have discovered some of the reasons why we do this. Bottom line: it’s scary to admit you’re wrong. In the political world and a democratic nation, one would think that facts would be a surefire way to convince someone that a particular opinion or course of action is the best/worst way to go. And, when presented with a misinformed individual, one would think that correcting this information would lead to the person having a change of mind. Not so, says political scientists:

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

The study proves what we knew all along, people hate to be wrong. It’s seen as weakness and to be avoided at all costs – even if the truth is staring you in the face. According to researchers, the implications may have dire consequences for democracy – where individual opinions are valued – often at the expense of real facts.

People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions.

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