I Don’t Want to Be Right

We've seen research that self-affirmation makes people perform better afterward. Maria Konnikova relates this more broadly to how we might help people correct factual misinformation. This isn't easy when a misperception supports our identity.

… an exercise in self-affirmation: either write down or say aloud positive moments from your past that reaffirm your sense of self and are related to the threat in question. Steele’s research suggests that affirmation makes people far more resilient and high performing,

Normally, self-affirmation is reserved for instances in which identity is threatened in direct ways: race, gender, age, weight, and the like. Here, Nyhan decided to apply it in an unrelated context: Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming? As it turns out, it would. On all issues, attitudes became more accurate with self-affirmation, and remained just as inaccurate without. That effect held even when no additional information was presented—that is, when people were simply asked the same questions twice, before and after the self-affirmation.

… it’s hardly a solution that can be applied easily outside the lab. “People don’t just go around writing essays about a time they felt good about themselves,” he said. And who knows how long the effect lasts—it’s not as though we often think good thoughts and then go on to debate climate change.

… not all errors are created equal.

Take astronomy. If someone asked you to explain the relationship between the Earth and the sun, you might say something wrong: perhaps that the sun rotates around the Earth, rising in the east and setting in the west. A friend who understands astronomy may correct you. It’s no big deal; you simply change your belief.

But imagine living in the time of Galileo, when understandings of the Earth-sun relationship were completely different, and when that view was tied closely to ideas of the nature of the world, the self, and religion. What would happen if Galileo tried to correct your belief? The process isn’t nearly as simple. The crucial difference between then and now, of course, is the importance of the misperception. When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.

The longer the narrative remains co-opted by prominent figures with little to no actual medical expertise ... the more difficult it becomes to find a unified, non-ideological theme. The message can’t change unless the perceived consensus among figures we see as opinion and thought leaders changes first.

And that, ultimately, is the final, big piece of the puzzle: the cross-party, cross-platform unification of the country’s élites, those we perceive as opinion leaders, can make it possible for messages to spread broadly. 

It’s only after ideology is put to the side that a message itself can change, so that it becomes decoupled from notions of self-perception. [emphasis mine]

There's the rub. As long as political elites and mass media "belong" to fossil fuel interests/Wall Street , the public can't embrace a positive transformation of our economy to limit escalating Climate Destabilization. The Republicans deliberately made Climate Change denial an identity issue.

After the world's economy collapses, perhaps someone will present a radical new self-perception to replace or modify all of the obsolete identities such as Democrat or Republican that were embedded in fossil fuel civilization.  A conversion experience is needed, to a new identity as a united humanity capable of managing our planet sanely.

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Tags: Climate Destabilization, correcting misperception, identity, self-affirmation

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