If you’ve been awake and online in the past 24 hours, there’s a good chance someone you know has shared this lovely Oatmeal comic. Yes, the one that explains why our brains our wired to reject information that goes against our previously held beliefs.
The comic was based on a three-episode sequence from You Are Not So Smart — a popular podcast and WordPress.com site — devoted to the backfire effect, the name of this cognitive phenomenon. On the first episode, the YANSS team goes deeper into the neurological underpinnings of this resistance to information that might change our minds:
By placing subjects in an MRI machine and then asking them to consider counterarguments to their strongly held political beliefs, Jonas Kaplan’s and Sarah Gimbel’s research, conducted along with neuroscientist Sam Harris, revealed that when people were presented with evidence that alerted them to the possibility that their political beliefs might be incorrect, they reacted with the same brain regions that would come online if they were responding to a physical threat.
“The response in the brain that we see is very similar to what would happen if, say, you were walking through the forest and came across a bear,” explains Gimbel in the episode. “Your brain would have this automatic fight-or-flight [response]…and your body prepares to protect itself.”
Learn more about the backfire effect by listening to the first episode on You Are Not So Smart.