This post is also available in Dutch.
Nowadays it seems that people don’t agree much with each other, at the very least, it would be practical if we could agree with ourselves. However, recent research has shown that this is not as obvious as it sounds.
Arguing Penguins, foto by Adam Arroyo (CC BY 2.0 licence)
It’s hard to avoid. Everyone everywhere is having heated debates on issues like accepting refugees, the fight against terrorism, and violence against women. The media also constantly inundates us with opinions on these topics. More than ever, it is important to develop sound arguments to convince others that your opinion is right. But would you actually be convinced by your own arguments? Scientists discovered that people often reject their own line of reasoning if they think the idea belongs to someone else.
In a recent study, Emmanuel Trouche and colleagues tested what happens when people are asked to judge their own reasoning as if it were someone else’s. The researchers asked participants to solve logic problems and explain how they arrived at their answer. Next, the participants were presented with the same problems, and this time with a a set of answers, they were told, that had been given by another participant. They then judged the other person’s arguments, determining whether the reasoning was convincing or not. What the participants did not know was that some of the arguments included their own. Apparently they didn’t find the arguments very convincing, and rejected more than half. The researchers compared these results to another experiment. In that experiment participants did know that the arguments they were judging were their own. Remarkably, less than 1 out of 10 arguments were rejected in that experiment.
Apparently we are more critical of other people’s reasoning than our own. The researchers call this phenomenon ‘selective laziness.’ This may sound like a bad thing, but the researchers disagree. Selective laziness means we don’t need to always find the best argument to try to persuade someone. If our reasoning isn’t good enough, the other person, who does evaluate our ideas critically, will tell us. As a result, we are able gradually improve our reasoning through discussion with others.
So, it makes a lot of sense to have discussions with other people and be open to their opinions, especially concerning difficult issues such as cultural differences and equality, before putting your personal opinions on the internet and declaring them truth.
Source article Trouche and colleagues
This blog was written by Lieke Heil. Lieke is a PhD candidate at the Donders Institute, where she studies the brain processes that allow us to understand the movements of others.
Edited by Lieneke.