Backfire Effect

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

In an ideal world, when you’re presented with contradicting evidence to your current way of thinking, you’d correct your beliefs and then move forward with a better understanding of the world.

Unfortunately we don’t live in that world.

The Backfire Effect

There’s a particularly nasty cognitive bias called the Backfire Effect that says once a belief is integrated into your way of thinking, you will protect that belief more strongly when you feel it is under attack.

What that means for you is, every time you try to win an argument with logic, you’re actually making the other person believe even more strongly. (Ever tried explaining why a conspiracy theory believer is wrong? You know exactly what I’m talking about.)

This was clearly shown in an experiment run in 2006 by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. They would show people articles they fabricated that seemed to support something that was demonstrably untrue. Then, Nyhan & Reifler would show participants the facts. Surprisingly, participants would double down on their misconceptions.

The Backfire Effect is the other side of the coin from the confirmation bias. Confirmation bias filters information you look for while the Backfire Effect protects you from information that’s found you.

This is exactly why no matter what kind of scandal is uncovered, candidates gain support.

All your hard work of persuading someone will backfire on you with equal & opposite force. It’s Newton’s Second Law of Internet Discussion Dynamics.