Monday, 10 January 2022

Covidiocy, Conspiracism and Creationist Self-Deception Explained

Why people deceive themselves - Newsportal - Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Hard though it can be to understand, the reason people such as antivaxx covidiots, conspiracy theorists and Creationists, hold onto patently idiotic and counter-factual opinions has been explained as a process of self-deception by two researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), Germany and the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

In a paper published on 6 January, 2022, in the journal Philosophical Psychology, Dr. Francesco Marchi and Professor Albert Newen describe four strategies used to stabilise and shield the positive self-image. According to their theory, self-deception helps people to stay motivated in difficult situations. Of course, self-deception is common to all people and not confined to those who hold wackadoodle opinions, but the way they hold doggedly to those patently wrong beliefs is understandable as a strategy for coping with cognitive dissonance.

All people deceive themselves, and quite frequently at that, for instance, if a father is convinced that his son is a good student and then the son brings home bad grades, he may first say that the subject isn’t that important or that the teacher didn’t explain the material well.

These are not malicious ways of doing things, but part of the basic cognitive equipment of humans to preserve their established view of themselves and the world.

However, this cognitive tendency is catastrophic in times of radically new challenges that require rapid changes in behaviour. If people in the early stages of a pandemic are sceptical about whether a vaccine will still show unexpected side effects, this is understandable caution that people can initially compensate for by strictly adhering to precautionary rules. Self-deception can also help to avoid panic reactions, however, if it becomes clear in the medium term that the side effects of the vaccine are clearly limited, then doubt is unreasonable and turns into direct danger to oneself and others. Self-deception also entails distorted risk assessments, because the health risk of foregoing vaccination is much greater than that resulting from vaccination. Self-deception can therefore stabilise the self-image, established ways of thinking and motivation to act in normal times, but becomes detrimental in times of crisis that require radical rethinking and new ways of acting, and puts society at risk.

Professor Albert Newen, co-author
Institut für Philosophie II
Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany
The researchers identified four strategies of self-deception that are frequently used in order to prevent unpleasant facts from getting to you in the first place.
  • Reorganisation of beliefs: people adjust peripheral beliefs to maintain a core belief, for instance, the example of observed evolution is not real evolution, the definition of which can change to maintain the belief that evolution doesn't happen.
  • Selecting facts through purposeful action: people avoid places or persons that might bring problematic facts to their attention, or, in the case of Creationists, conspiracists and antivaxxers, by actively seeking out the opinions of those who agree with them and selectively filtering the available information. This of course begs the question, how do they know what facts to avoid?
  • Rejecting facts by casting doubt on the credibility of the source. For example, the scientists have a hidden agenda, are being paid to give false information or used a dating method that gave the result they wanted. Classic ad hominem attack. A form of the 'shoot the messenger' strategy, and the absurd belief in organised world-wide conspiracies involving millions of scientists, laboratory workers and administrative staff, none of whom ever break ranks.
  • Generating facts from an ambiguous state of affairs. For example, evidence shows that a very small number of people have an adverse reaction to a vaccine, or a very small number of scientists have doubts about the precise details of evolution, therefore the vaccines are proven to be dangerous, and scientists don't accept evolution as a fact. But of course, those scientists who are paid to produce disinformation against science can be relied on absolutely.
All of the above will be readily recognisable to anyone who has tried to engage Creationists, anti-vaxxers, conspiracists, religious fundamentalists or even flat-earthers in serious debate.

It's deliciously ironic that the psychology with which Creationists reject the TOE is itself an evolved trait.

Sadly, the paper in Philosophical Psychology is behind a paywall with only the abstract freely available online.

Thank you for sharing!

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