Why is it hard for people to change their assumptions?

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Why do people stick to their beliefs?

It is quite frustrating when at times you talk to someone who doesn’t want to change their mind no matter what.

You give them proofs, you show them so many negative sides to their assumption and obvious things around them prove otherwise, and they still don’t change their minds.
What’s the point of holding on too hard to an opinion?

Why can’t some people see the obvious no matter much it continues to be evident to them?
Let’s have a look at the different factors that result in such behavior and what can one do when faced with such a situation.

People need to keep their opinions in order to survive

People use their opinions and assumptions to fill in certain psychological gaps in their personalities in order to survive. Sometimes a person needs to think that a certain group of people are stupid in order for him to remain feeling superior to them. Its the threat of losing his superiority that results in letting him defend that opinion blindly.

In addition to that, when some people start forming an opinion about something they sometimes fall into the trap of attaching the opinion to themselves. In such a case changing their opinion means to them that they weren't wise enough to make a judgment or that they weren't smart enough.

Ever noticed what happens on an internet page with a topic as simple as a critique about a movie? If you scroll down you’ll notice people bashing the critic himself “if you had any sense of humor, you wouldn’t be writing this”, “I hope you go to hell and lose your job for the constant lies you make about people’s hard work” and “get a life, it seems like you really need one, you sick head!”.

Most people will defend their opinions blindly because they believe that being proved wrong might mean that they are incompetent, unintelligent or even inferior. Many fall into the mistake of attaching it to who they are; their tastes and level of intelligence. (see also How some people twist the facts to support their beliefs).

The important role of the Reticular Activating System (RAS)

Have you ever noticed how when you bought something new suddenly many had it too?
Or what about when you learned a new word, and suddenly everyone is using it?

Noticed one certain person within an organization and then suddenly you started hearing many news about him/her?

These things didn’t happen suddenly at all, they were always there; what’s new is that you started noticing it more because your brain started putting more attention to it. The RAS makes sure it brings to your attention what is important to you. (see also Are you too focused on your appearance).

When we start to build a certain belief or opinion about something, if we don’t decide to be open enough to hear all things related to it, we will be going around only focusing on many more other things that prove that we are right. We’ll tend to lose focus on things that oppose it and only focus more on things that prove our opinion. (see also How your beliefs affect your perception)

How can we change their assumptions?

So as you see what happens is that first people attach their new opinions to themselves and then their minds focuses on all the things that to prove it to them. The RAS is not a bad thing at all, it is there to make sure we put our attention to what we believe is important. If we are not careful however, this will come against us.

Continuing to attack them will do no good; in fact it will only increase their stubbornness towards it, proving that they are right. The right thing to do in this case is to first remove their ego from this opinion by showing them that you consider them what they are trying to prove.

People may have wrong opinions but there is almost always a good value behind it even if they twist and analyze things the wrong way. Showing them that you appreciate this value, will be the first step to separate the ego from their opinion and have them listen to you. This way, by time, there is more chance that they eventually see the other side that you are talking about.

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