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The Cognitive Dissidents

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On November 14, 2011 @ 7:30 am In Psychology,Really, really bad calls | Comments Disabled

I have frequently referenced the idea of Cognitive Dissonance [1]. This has been traditionally described as the “uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.”

However, where we see an even greater discomfort is when a person of a given mindset or ideology is confronted with facts that directly contradict their previously held beliefs.

As we have seen, there is a cynical attempt to falsify the narrative of what actually occurred before, during and after the credit crisis. The data is overwhelming as to what did and did not cause the financial collapse. The belief that markets can self regulate, that bankers can be trusted to act in their own best interest, even that people are rational, have all been shown to be silly nonsense.

The conflicts within the minds of the people who believe these fallacies is overwhelming. The attempt at reconciling facts with beliefs leads them to a painful conflict: Either they significantly modify their belief system — a challenge when its a defining characteristic of their personas — or, they utterly disregard the facts in order to construct a new narrative.

Some people have recognized their belief system was overrun by reality. They are chastened, have begun searching for a new or modified ideology.

Many others refuse. Facts be damned, they double down, sticking with their beliefs, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.

I have a new name for these folks: They are Cognitive Dissidents. They will continue to dissent from reality for as long as it takes to get everyone else to believe as they do, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary.

If you engage with a Cognitive Dissident, it is futile to try to use facts or data, for theirs is a belief based upon Faith. You cannot convince a person of a fact if it conflicts with their deeply held, nearly religious convictions.

Thus, when confronted with someone who has a fervent belief based not on evidence or reason or data or logic, do not waste your time convincing them the earth is not flat; their cognitive facilities simply will not allow them to recognize the world is round. 

A farmer — or was it Robert Heinlein? — once passed along this slice of wisdom; I repeat it now for your benefit: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.


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[1] Cognitive Dissonance: https://www.google.com/search?q=Cognitive+DIssonance+site%3Aritholtz.com&hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&biw=914&bih=639&num=10&lr=&ft=i&cr=&safe=images

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