Don’t Bother Me With the Facts

January 25, 2006

From an article appearing today at livescience.com

Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows.

Scientists studied the brain activity of partisan Democrats and Republicans as they processed various facts that paint their favorite candidate in a bad light. They observed that emotions take control in these situations, rather than logic.

The brain imaging revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate. “The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data,” Westen said.

Of course this is not at all surprising, but it is an important phenomenon.

While this interesting in the political arena, it certainly relevant in the area of religion also. And it could be a huge obstacle to unity. We have an innate tendency to react emotionally when our beliefs are questioned. As a result we are very unlikely to logically consider an opposing viewpoint. The more emotional the issue, the less likely we will consider it logically. This makes it all the more important that we avoid polarizing in our conversations. We need to help one another keep our emotions calm. We need to be non-threatening.

Grace and patience are the best antidote I can think of for this tendency.


  1. I call this Intellectual Inertia. We must be aware that the things that we already think and believe have an inertia to them. We don’t want to be wrong, we don’t’ want to let go. It’s hard to re-think, but we should always be willing to.Keeping in mind that the person you are trying to convince has his or her own Intellectual Inertia is helpful for stopping short before a conversation turns divisive. If they will not be convinced, trying harder only drives a wedge between you. Later, when other circumstances perhaps lead them to question that very thing, the wedge will keep them from coming to you for help.

  2. Hey Doug,Very true. Sometimes the wedge can create such an emotional barrier that it keeps them from becoming open to the idea later.Alan

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