Graeme Newell

Backfire Effect

When we’re presented with strong evidence that a deeply-held opinion is incorrect, you’d expect that we’d be glad to discover our error. But unfortunately, that’s not our brain’s default reaction. Research shows that a lot of the time we develop a strong inclination to double down on our mistaken premise. Why are we so irrationally stubborn?

Forming an entirely new opinion on the world requires that our brain do a lot of extra work, and it really hates that. So your brain makes a last-ditch, hail-Mary attempt to salvage our out-of-date incorrect belief. This is usually done by hyper-focusing on corroborating evidence and desperately looking for flaws in contradictory evidence.

What’s the secret to beating the backfire effect?

You must turn that negative into a positive. You must give your brain a little mental reward for taking the extra time to consider something new. Learn to celebrate and enjoy that newly found contradiction.

-Celebrate the mistake you DIDN’T make. Take a moment to consider the bad things that could have happened if you had stuck with the incorrect information. Then celebrate the suffering you WON’T experience.

-Revel in the new options that are now possible. Savor the optimized paths you’ll take now that you have the correct information.

-Pat yourself on the back. Think of yourself not as a professional at the top of her game, but as a constantly searching student of the best and smartest path forward. Keep your ego in check.