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Rejecting Uncommon Beliefs: How Worldview Shapes our Experience

by Marilyn Schlitz

As the legendary philosopher John Locke once said: “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”

What limits our desire and capacity to take in new ideas – even when we hold an intention to transform and grow? How can we shift a paradigm that we see as flawed and incomplete without understanding the barriers to changing our minds and behaviors? And how can we develop habits that allow us to explore and reveal our own biases and intolerance of ideas that refute our prevailing beliefs and opinions? These are tricky questions, but ones that are lighting up many science labs around the world.

New discoveries and new thinking in neuroscience, social psychology, and anthropology offer provocative insights into the barriers to transformation. They show us that our views of reality are embedded largely in our unconscious mind. Operating below the threshold of our conscious awareness, our beliefs and assumptions shape our experience – even while we’re busy making other plans.

Recent studies within the realm of science suggests that facts do not exert as much influence on our opinions as our deeply engrained emotional convictions. Research from the Cultural Cognition Project (CCP), a Yale Law School initiative, found, for example, that policy and public perceptions, such as those around climate change or nanotechnology, are shaped by cultural beliefs more than scientific data.

In one experiment, Don Braman and his colleagues at CCP divided people into two cultural values-based groups: “individualistic” or “communitarian.” The research team presented both groups with identical content about nanotechnology, something the participants knew little about. According to Breman, the fact that people were presented with negative or positive information did not impact the fact that they rejected the contradictory information while recalling the data that supported their preexisting values. Their worldview shapes their model of reality.

Another study helps understand why this is so. Kevin Dunbar and Jonathan Fugelsanj, researchers from Dartmouth College, have discovered that a resistance to new information may actually be hardwired into our brains. When confronted with dissonant data that contradicts what we expect to see, even trained scientists appear to reject information that goes against their assumptions about how the world works.

Using the sophisticated brain-mapping tools of fMRI, the researchers discovered in testing their scientist-subjects that when presented with contradictions and errors, their brains triggered activity in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), the section largely associated with perception. This process is important for editing out false information, but it also inhibited the ability to retain correct information that went against the subject’s prevailing scientific assumptions. At the same time, another portion of the scientists’ brains, called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), suppressed unwanted information that didn’t jive with their preexisting theories. When triggered, this area of the brain can actually cause an individual to delete contradictory information from their awareness.

This can be a serious problem for scientists who are charged with the discovery of new knowledge about life. It is also a problem for the rest of us, who seek to expand our horizons or maintain an open mind. These experiments reveal a truth about human nature: belief blinds us to alternative points of view and can even lead to dogmatic assertions about things we know nothing about. The data call for humility to question our deepest assumptions. As the author James Michener remarked: “An age is called dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it



In the News, Worldview
  • Anonymous Icon

    craigw Mar 08, 2011

    This makes perfect sense. I see this everywhere, from New Age'rs to die hard skeptics, people flat out cannot see information that disrupts their reality.

    It seems to be more pronounced with skeptics. I've watched with amusement as they argue in comment sections that the observer effect doesn't really exist and neither does entanglement.

    I've come to the conclusion that there is a great deal of fear associated with having one's reality disrupted and those with less subconscious fear do not struggle with it as much.

    I don't know whether it's because I'm psychic, but this has never been much of a problem for me. I've been able to change rather easily.

  • Anonymous Icon

    ginger Mar 09, 2011

    This information, properly integrated, could go a long way to creating bridges between different
    cultures and subcultures mutual understanding-It is heartening to see science confirm what intuition
    has long whispered-The future is now if we can grasp it.

  • Anonymous Icon

    PositionalRelativity Mar 12, 2011

    My own work in Positional Relativity mirrors the relationships between first cognition (of self) and eventual perception in a world view (construction or separation)through a translational process, leading toward a physical display (action or form). My work is entirely intuitive, and is biased by my intention to heal others who intentially refuse to heal in defense of the individual's conviction of the identity of self as fragile. My model expands the concept a tiny bit farther, in describibg the cognitive process as mirroring a tripartite and intrinsic generative (creative) process of translation that displays in thought forms, physical forms, and non-forms, from a potential state to a possible state.

    The difficultly is not in the absurdly simple pattern of creative cognitive construction (<P1>R<P2>)n, but in the complexity it exponentialy generates, "n" can be infinite,and in practice the traditional model of 7 chakras or sacraments is complex enough . The creative big bang, or Voice of God? The name does not matter, but the underlying concepts being communicated, deviate from one person to another. If they are roughly similar, we play well, if they diverge too far, we draw weapons.
    The research cited in your article helps me by supplying external support for my contetion that certain probabilities can be statistically predicted in any social structure, from the internal self on up to the cosmic consious, plant and planet included.

    I do babble on...forgive me. What I was trying to say, is that everything is related to everything else by common origin and common volume. We all know that (intuitively if not consciously), but are often unclear what that actually means. We intentionally ignore the obvious, in every belief system, ohilosophic or scientific.

  • Sunshadow Mar 14, 2011

    Thank you so much for a clearly written, concise presentation of very valuable information. I wonder how many people will filter out *this* data?!

    I see how this applies to science, both within the realm itself, and between science, and religion, and spirituality. It really does help to explain the unnecessary “either/or” rift between these different ways of knowing the world and universe.

    Religions, being of humankind's making, are so fraught with human biases, prejudices, blind spots, fears, and even agendas (hidden or not, conscious to them or unconscious to them) that there is simply *no way* for any real truth seeker to expect that a "religion" will contain the entire truth about something so large and mysterious as God/Spirit/Ultimate Creator. How anyone could actually believe that the scriptures from the Bible, Koran, or any other holy book is The Perfect Word of God, even while knowing that these works were written in different languages, different cultures in different times, with different meanings, and the many translations that have been made (again, with hidden or not-so-hidden agendas), simply amazes me. This article helps me to understand that a little better.

    To me, if people could just get to the point of accepting the material noted in this article, we'd be poised to change directions on many fronts, away from our fighting and competitive natures to really trying to *hear* the truth from another person's perspective. Talk about paradigm shifting!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Will definitely be sharing this article with my friends!

  • Anonymous Icon

    xanamorgado Mar 17, 2011

    As a Psychologist, I find great resistence among my peers towards the new facts relating consciousnes and quantum physics... therefore, I try to share as much information as I can, such as the above studies; It is a fact that most professionals are concerned with fear of ridicule. Indeed, I find quite amusing to find certain scientific books in New Age shelves, in stores all over the world... whenever I try to ask the reason why they do that discrimination, they simply answer that "it is more easy" to find the subjects and authors... despite all that, I do think the paradigm is really shiffting and the moment is NOW...

  • Anonymous Icon

    Mattcolborn Mar 18, 2011

    These findings are quite interesting -- although I find it interesting that some quite mechanistic/reductionistic views of personality seem suddenly acceptable when critiquing *other people's* resistance to new knowledge. (Although this is no doubt my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex reacting to this new information....) William James noted this same trend in those who wish to debunk religious beliefs; if one claims that it's nothing but part of the brain causing x sensation, then one doesn't have to worry about other factors. But since all of our Earthly experiences, at least, are filtered through the brain, we have to judge beliefs on other terms.

    e.g. maybe some people are more skeptical than others due to their different life experiences, which predispose them in certain ways, and the brain patterns one sees are a result rather than a cause of prior experience. Experiements such as those detailed above tend to assume an overly simplistic pattern of cause and effect, and to assume that complex predispositions can be narrowed down to functional locales in the brain. We should remember that neurobiological determinism doesn't stop being neurobiological determinism just because it's used to rationalise why some people can't see psi.

  • MEPHISTOPHILES Mar 20, 2011

    I have been alert to this concept for quite sometime.

    Some questions I've been thinking about:

    When I reject a notion... Is it because there is an inherent falsehood within that notion, or.., am I rejecting it because I am being "confronted with dissonant data that contradicts what I expect to see?"

    Additionally, If I have become hardwired to see the earth as flat as my world view, how then do overcome this hard wiring to allow the round earth idea to penetrate?

    thanks for the post...

  • Anonymous Icon

    adilchimthanawala123 Mar 23, 2011

    Thanx for the post. I totally agree with Dr. Schlitz. I am a practicing Homoeopathic Cardiologist at Nagpur, India. About a decade ago when I started delving in this field, let alone my colleagues of Modern medicine, but even homoeopaths were quite sceptical abt it. Took me 7-8 years and lot of documentary evidence to prove that Homoeopathy really works in Cardiac diseases... Let our minds be open for a change!

  • Anonymous Icon

    HarryShan Apr 02, 2011

    What an interesting and insightful post. It's nice to discover that some scientists are making advances in this field and support what can also be approached on an intuitive level. Acknowledging our own beliefs and how we work with them is quite tricky and is an everyday challenge. But I find it so rewarding on the rare occasions I have some kind of breakthrough in that matter. It's very encouraging to see that it can be studied in many ways. Gives a lot to think about.

  • Anonymous Icon

    hariB Apr 03, 2011

    I would like to ask the question that was posed by mephistophiles
    How do we resolve the issue so that we are able to see the light?
    We know the challenges…it faces us every day in our various activities. What is/are the solution/s

    Thanks for the post...

  • Anonymous Icon

    seeingstars Sep 14, 2011

    So if there are neurological centers that correspond to how we process information, maybe we can learn to intentionally activate these centers to open and close to new information. Maybe we already do.

  • Anonymous Icon

    BethAnn Sep 19, 2011

    What limits our desire and capacity to take in new ideas – even when we hold an intention to transform and grow? Fear & No unity. Individuals are not in unity w/ each other. Individuals are too worried about what others will think about their actions. As infants, we learn: ‘Oh, if I smile, Mom & Dad smile’. There is an outside influence being brought in internally. This could be a time for more positive/constructive education in processing information. Instead, we drill in how to behave according to current social beliefs and what others think. “Stop that. What would the neighbors think of that?” So, OK, we stop that. We worry about what others think. This limits are ability to be creative and think for ourselves. When we are worried about what others think, we are conditioning ourselves to stop thinking. Perhaps, as we develop over time, our brains chemistry is actually changing as well. Instead of exercising our brain by thinking, which would be using certain chemicals & energy, we are altering our ability to use these particular chemicals & energy. I believe these can be exercised back into function. However, it will be a struggle just like it is to condition for a marathon race. And, people tend not to want change because it requires significant work & energy to achieve certain things. Just like electricity, we tend to take the path of least resistance. How many of us would stop training for the marathon race because it required so much work?
    The path of least resistance. “Stop that!” “What would others think?” “You need to do as you are told.” We create a closed mind from a child’s beginning life. Now, they take the path of least resistance that WE ourselves have created. Some of us get around these closed doors because of other doors that were opened up to us throughout our lives (some traumatic/some absolutely positively stimulating). All of us are closed minded in some degree due to our upbringing and societal influences. Hence, this is a long process to come out of. It will not change overnight. Just as our forefathers struggled within the various scientific realms trying to open up the doors for others to seek truth, we do too. Shared information is key. We need to apply the knowledge we learn about the mind into current educational systems. Educating our children who will be the future parents who have the responsibility for encouraging their young is a key starting point. I don’t think we are ready to do that, but we could begin these processes by doing such things as bringing teachers/educators and parents into the research. So, instead of keeping knowledge hidden in labs for the ‘elite’ who are ‘open-minded’, we could bring this knowledge forth for others to see and know. Then, we can start to apply this knowledge for all to use. For this to occur: We need unity. We need to come to a point together where we can grow, learn, make mistakes & share information safely.

  • Jeanine Broderick Dec 13, 2012

    This is why, in the programs I have developed, I begin with information about the way the brain filters information based on beliefs, expectations, emotional stance, and focus. I am able to demonstrate these filters through examples. I do this to help them pause before rejecting new concepts and at least ask themselves "Could this be true?". Most people, once they understand that their brain is on auto-pilot - supporting their beliefs and expectations with the information their conscious mind receives and not passing along information that is inconsistent with their beliefs become open to ways to consciously program the filters their brain uses instead of the defaults that developed throughout their life with most of them having developed at very young ages.

    Before I can expect them to be open to the concepts and ideas that will help them thrive they have to understand these filters.

    It also lends itself greatly to another area of human strife - relationships. When one begins understanding that the reason some people can't see your point of view is because their brain is not delivering the information (or keeping it conscious even if they hear it) because it contradicts their beliefs. When you begin to understand that such disagreements are not stubbornness or willful - that our brains are having a tremendous impact below our conscious awareness it is easier not to feel frustration or even hopeful instead of anger about the interactions. It also makes it more possible to find a solution.

    New beliefs can aid us substantially. I consciously developed a belief that I no longer automatically believe things just because others believe them and do not automatically disbelieve things that others do not believe. This allows information to reach my conscious mind where I can do my own analysis and make a conscious decision about how I want to treat the information (true, false or possible).

    This is also the reason I wrote an article about the key ingredient a truly great leader - the one who is later seen as "ahead of her time" must have an open mind. Leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. had new ideas about how to accomplish something which means their minds were open enough to contemplate whether these ideas could be true. I believe any great leader must keep an open mind and the failure of the masses to do so is why so many new ideas are met with ridicule.

    I would think we would learn. If history were taught differently we would be different. If we were taught how man "used to" ridicule new ideas and how ideas such as "washing hands prevents the spread of disease" were laughed at we could raise a generation that was open to new ideas and progress would not have to wait so long. If we spoke of the failures that preceded many of the great successes we would raise a generation of individuals who don't give up so easily and who understand that "so-called" failures are learning experiences.

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