Why we hate to change our minds

The Greater our Investment
The greater the likelihood
we will hold on to ideas that don’t serve us

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Foundational Concept of the Intentionality Series
Opinions vs. Facts

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong.  Presented with conflicting information, accepting the new evidence would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable (called cognitive dissonance)

And because it is so important to protect that core belief, they will rationalize, ignore, and even deny anything that doesn’t fit with the core belief.~ Franz Fanon, Free Your Mind and Think

Confirmation Bias

There has been a great deal of research and writing on the implications of the concept of confirmation bias. I have often referred to the concept here on ADDandSoMuchMORE.com, so many of my regular readers are already familiar with the expression.

Given today’s political climate, I believe it is time to review a few ideas
as we all attempt to make sense of what’s going on.

Some of you will recall seeing the information in the box below – but I believe it will be useful to take a moment to reread it as an introduction to this particular article.

Confirmation bias is a term describing the unconscious tendency of people to favor information that confirms their hypotheses or closely held belief systems.

Individuals display confirmation bias when they selectively gather, note or remember information, or when they interpret it in a way that fits what they already believe.

The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues, for deeply entrenched beliefs, when we are desperate for answers, and when there is more attachment to being right than being effective.

How it tends to work

Human beings will interpret the same information in radically different ways to support their own views of the themselves. We hate to believe that we might have been wrong — especially when we have invested time and energy coming to a decision.

Studies on fraternity hazing have shown repeatedly that, when attempting to join a group, the more difficult the barriers to group acceptance, the more people will value their membership.

To resolve the discrepancy between the hoops they were forced to jump through and the reality of whatever their experience turns out to be, they are likely to convince themselves that their decision was, in fact, the best possible choice they could have made.

Similar logic helps to explain the “Stockholm Syndrome,” the actions of those who seem to remain loyal to their captors following their release.

©Dogbert/Dilbert by Scott Adams — Found HERE

Adjusting Beliefs

People quickly adjust their opinions to fit their behavior — sometimes even when it goes against their moral beliefs overall. We ALL do it at times, even those of us who are aware of the dynamic and consciously fight against it.

It’s an unconscious adaptation that is a result of the brain’s desire for self-consistency. For example:

  • Those who take home pens or paper from their workplace might tell themselves that “Everybody does it” — and that they would be losing out if they didn’t do it too.
  • Or they will tell themselves, perhaps, “I’m so underpaid I deserve a little extra under the table – they expect us to do it.”

And nowhere is it easier to see than in political disagreements!

When validating our view on a contentious point, we conveniently overlook or “over-ride” information that is at odds with our current or former opinions, while recalling everything that fits with what is more psychologically comfortable to believe – whether we are aware of it consciously or not.

We don’t have to look further than the aftermath of the most recent election here in America for many excellent examples of how difficult it is for human beings to believe that maybe they might have been wrong.


To understand why, we need to look briefly at another concept that science has many studies to support: cognitive dissonance.

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The unconscious workings of cognitive dissonance

Social psychologists studying cognitive dissonance have long been interested in the way we deal with two thoughts that contradict each other – and how we deal with the discrepancy.

As as early as 1959, a ground-breaking experiment by Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith provided some fascinating insight into the explanations we come up with to justify our thoughts and actions, and why we adapt our thinking the way we do.

Their conclusions are still being recognized as valid today.

Those who are interested can find a plain-language description of the study HERE.

So what IS Cognitive Dissonance?

It has been said that cognitive dissonance is a mismatch between what one believes and what the evidence supports.  That’s part of it, but not all — and certainly not a definition likely to get anybody to change his or her mind.  Let’s open the paradigm a bit.

Cognitive dissonance is the term that science uses to describe that highly uncomfortable feeling of internal tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time — for example, I have always been a pacifist but I just enlisted in the Army. 

Almost immediately, the brain searches for ways to reduce the dissonance — especially following a decision — either by redefining our terms or finding a way to justify the actions that don’t seem to support them.

I’m sure you can come up with at least a few comments you’ve heard to expand on my example above.

Two interesting conclusions continue to emerge as science continues to explore the concept.

  1. When a person has been required or convinced to say or do something in conflict with a previously held opinion, there will be a tendency for him to modify the opinion to bring it into correspondence with what he has said or done.
  2. The greater the pressure used to convince people to change their opinion, the less likely they are to rethink the opinions and the more likely they are to justify the decisions.

That finding alone underscores the need for caution when we attempt to “logic” somebody out of an opinion or belief. 

If they suspect that we think that continuing to believe what they do is stupid, for example, it will unconsciously activate their “I am NOT a stupid person” programming, and you’ve lost the debate, possibly forever.

As I continue to say on this brain-based blog: Make-Wrong NEVER works!

Convincing OURSELVES

Two studies reported by Irving Janis and Bert King (1954;1956), published in The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, showed that when individuals were required to improvise a speech supporting a point of view with which they disagreed, their private opinion moves closer to the position they advocated in the speech.

The change in opinion has been observed to be greater than the change of opinion in those who only hear the speech, or in those who simply read a prepared speech, told to focus on execution and delivery alone — indicating that those who improvise convince themselves, even if they are unable to convince others.

THAT certainly explains a lot of the “alternative facts” we’ve heard in the news
and around the ‘net since November, doesn’t it?

The importance of keeping this concept in mind

Neuroscientist-turned-novelist, Dr. Robert Burton (On Certainty: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not), had this to say about it all during an interview on the Brain Science Podcast:

“My goal is to strip away the power of certainty by exposing its involuntary neurological roots. If science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider alternative ideas.”

World Peace, perhaps?

UPDATE: Author Stephen King published a brilliant article illuminating these concepts in in The Guardian. He has imagined a fictional interview with characters who agreed to ingest [imaginary] truth serum.

Long, but worth every reading moment, containing numerous examples of confirmation bias. (Many thanks to Dermott Hayes [Postcard from a Pigeon] for bringing it to my attention.)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

86 Responses to Why we hate to change our minds

  1. Pingback: Medication Fears | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: (March 12/17)“ ‘Blinded Me With Sky-Ants” – trulyunpluggeddotcom

  3. K E Garland says:

    This is one of my favorite theories because it translates across many situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lwbut says:

    Reblogged this on Lovewillbringustogether’s Weblog and commented:
    I’ve posted on Confirmation Bias on this blog before – a long time ago- it’s worth repeating so i’ve reposted this from MGH’s blog…(If you don’t know how and why your mind works the way it does then you are not in control of your own mind – it is in control of you!)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An eye-opener… need explanation for these dark days. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: (Feb 23/17) “Staying Afloat In A Leaky Boat: A Thank You…” – trulyunpluggeddotcom

  7. Pingback: Learning to Work Around “Spacing Out” | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  8. Pingback: The Brain: Why much of what you think you know is WRONG | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  9. Such an interesting site. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and how the brain works. Thanks Madelyn for posting such informative blogs.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. mistermuse says:

    A definitive example of “cognitive dissonance” was captured recently in the title of an opinion piece in the local newspaper: IT’S NOT TRUMP, IT’S US. In other words, Trump voters have only themselves to blame (but they won’t) for what this President is doing to the country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting title – and apt. I posted my reblog version of an article before the election that made the same point, just slightly differently: it’s no longer about what Hillary did or did not do – it’s about US, our values and what we want for ourselves & our children. Is her opposition likely to represent or respect those values?

      Well, we all know how well THAT point landed – and the answer to those questions.

      From priming studies, science also knows that if you expose people to the same points repeatedly – true or not – a great many people will consider that “familiar” is “likely to be true.” Too few seemed interested in learning what was planned for the land once “the swamp” was drained!

      And now, cognitive dissonance avoidance runs rampant, and for many it is STILL about what Hillary did or did not do. I don’t know what Agent Orange will have to do before enough people take off their cognitive blindfolds that we can block the worst of his ideas while there’s still time.

      I got a form email back from my Democratic Senator this morning – “thanking me for my feedback” to mine urging his participation in a filibuster to prevent the Supreme Court nomination from rubber stamped approval. Filibuster forces a greater number of confirmation votes – and it may be the only way to stop this much, at least. I am but one voice, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t raise it.

      The nominee is only 48, so if he takes the bench, with his record, it doesn’t bode well for most of us for a *very* long time.

      Scary. Thanks for ringing in.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. noelleg44 says:

    The statement that the greater the pressure to get someone to change their opinion, the less likely they are to do so is a perfect example of what is happening in the US. People refuse to have meaningful conversations with each other – just shouting out the same old stuff, over and over. I have been trying to put myself in the place of the other side and can see they have some points. Too bad they can’t do the same. Hysteria rules.


    • I know – and the man/child who would be king is still whipping it up with impulsive statements and finger pointing. I doubt anybody can get him to change his behavior, but I believe it is imperative that we change ours – before this country is torn apart.

      This is my attempt to explain it as dispassionately as I am able, hoping to foster a bit of “think before you speak.” Thanks for reading and commenting, Noelle.


  12. A very good article. it does take a conscious effort to avoid this, I try to do it by reading articles with views I disagree with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Eric.

      You ARE making an effort to avoid knee-jerk bias- good for you. I don’t seek out the articles, generally, but it’s impossible to avoid them if you spend any time at all online. Nobody agrees with everything another espouses, anyway – not often in any case.

      Before he died, my Dad subscribed me to Imprimus – fairly right-wing transcripts of key-notes from a strictly conservative college. I’m sure my Dad kicks himself that I didn’t go there — somehow my Republican family sprouted what he considers “a #$%^ Democrat!” (I consider myself a “humanist” ).

      The keynotes are not incendiary, but I can always spot the logic flaws and biases as I read them, and my views rarely align with theirs. That’s MY exercise in doing battle with confirmation bias.

      I always want to write a careful letter to the editor when I’m done – but I doubt they’d print it so that the students might get another side of the issue, and I doubt anybody is likely to change the administration’s mind about the kind of education they choose to provide.

      Thanks for reading – and taking the time to ring in.


  13. Great post – it explains so much! Reblogged on http://lyricalsixties.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are a doll to reblog this. Whatever side of today’s issues on which people find themselves, we need to find a way to resolve difficulties in a manner that gives EVERYONE a life worth living.

      Understanding helps cool the fires, I believe – and understanding WHY we (and others) hold on to beliefs so strongly – and how it only increases the grip when we are challenged, can help take a few steps toward the middle. I hope!


  14. Pingback: Why we hate to change our minds – Lyrical Sixties

  15. Pingback: Why we hate to change our minds | ADD . . . and-so-much-more | The Powers That Beat

  16. Bernadette says:

    Madelyn, this is a syndrome that my husband and I have spoken a lot about. The way it applies to a medical diagnosis is downright frightening. Interesting that when people had to write an essay defending the opposite opinion they moved further toward it. Perhaps they should reinstitute debate in the school curriculum.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good luck with that with DeVoss now at the helm. Disgraceful!

      There are A LOT of things that need to be included as we “educate” the next generation. So unfortunate for the students, but even more troubling is the reality that they are the generation that will be (and be voting for) our future leaders. We ALL need them to be well educated, *especially* those of us who don’t have children we can educate ourselves.

      Thanks for reading and responding, Bernadette. I see your gravatar all OVER the blogs – and usually remember to click “like” to let you know.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. CalicoJack says:

    Howdy Madelyn!

    I recently wrote a review of Arlie Hochschild’s “Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” and she advances an argument that dovetails with the idea of “call me stupid” and you hit the “I’m not stupid” wall of refusal to engage when talking about how the right leaning White Christian Americans view left leaning Americans. Even when it is clear that the Republican party in general and Bobbi Jindel in particular has sold them as so many cheap supplies to the petrochemical companies, they engage in cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias and believe that they are making the best choice with their votes.

    The book engendered a lot of empathy and compassion in me for these people and their plight, but I hit a wall of my own. It makes no sense to me to let yourself be used like that no matter what you imagine your political opponents think about you. I hate to say it, but these people are rubes. They are made to be exploited and the likes of Bobbi Jindel and Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway are just the vultures to feed off their carcasses.

    Yet, the only way out of the mess we are in is to make nice with them and find common ground — there is a lot — and not call them rubes or hicks or hayseeds or any of those other derogatory names no matter much I think they fit.



    Liked by 2 people

    • Even though I DO understand the brain basis, I fight my own judgment as well. It’s difficult for me not to blame their [lack of?] thinking for the mess we’re in right now – but that way lies further dissension likely to polarize us further (and encourage the man/child who would be king as he continues to take idiot actions that will only destroy what has always been foundational in the American way of life.)

      I doubt anything will (can?) change him, so it’s *essential* that we focus on stopping him. And that will happen most quickly if his current supporters switch “sides.”

      Can you leave me a link to your article? I’d love to give it a read (no time for an entire book right now, unfortunately – overbooked and digging out as fast as I can).


      • CalicoJack says:

        Howdy Madelyn!

        Sure, happy to supply a link:

        It’s a good book. Some astonishing information on the experiences of the people of Southern Louisiana. And Bobbi Jindal does not come off well.


        Liked by 2 people

        • THANKS!

          I’ll leave you a comment when I get there – much later today, most probably – or tomorrow.

          btw-if you have posts that add content to mine, currently or subsequently, I will approve your links in the future. (keep it to one per comment or you will be auto-spammed and I’ll never see it TO approve).

          Liked by 1 person

          • CalicoJack says:

            Howdy Madelyn!

            I’ll ping back to you, too. I try to search WordPress first for strong sources but don’t always have the time to do a thorough search. Honestly, I had forgotten that you had such a good psych site but won’t any more!



            • Thanks Jack. I’m on the page with your article – liked and rated, but TinkerToy needs to go out so I’ll have to finish reading it on return. (The Louisianna “have to endure for progress” response? OMG! ) Did grad school in NOLA, so I came across many strange similars in my 3 years there.

              I also experience the lack of time to go tripping around for strong sources – and thanks for considering ADDandSoMuchMORE a candidate. I position it as “Mental Health info & advocacy”

              As the name suggests, it’s a hybrid, – neuroscience, psych, sharing my practically life-long depth of experience in a few arenas, a dash of ire, a smattering of good ole’ common sense — and a sprinkling of lighter stuff once in a while, to give my readers a bit of a break. (me too!) 🙂

              Only possible way to keep on blogging for *THE* ADD Poster Girl. 🙂


              Liked by 1 person

            • CalicoJack says:

              Variety is, indeed, the spice of life. Isn’t it funny what motivates us and keeps the blogging going. For me it is the audacity of public figures, a love of the news, and a deep desire to understand — Aspie — that motivates me.


              Liked by 1 person

            • We have more in common with each other than we do with the “vanilla” brained! Do you have your back-story anywhere on your blog?

              Liked by 1 person

            • CalicoJack says:

              Howdy Madelyn!

              I don’t have my story up. I’ve thought about it. I comment often on autism oriented blogs. I’m pretty open about it. Perhaps I’ll do a post for Autism awareness. That’s a good idea. I’ll put it on my calendar.


              Liked by 1 person

            • How would you feel about a cross-post with intro and links? You get yours into the reader early, I follow shortly behind. My site could certainly use a little “guest-posting” on the other spectrum disorders, everybody relates best to a first person story, and April is far enough away to noodle it.

              Why not a reblog?
              A great many ADDers balk at the “double-jump” of actual reblogs, especially the way the WordPress function handles it (not enough info to whet an appetite, often breaking at the worst possible place, and sometimes offering little more than a link anyway). That’s the reason I link a lot and rarely reblog .

              I also reformat when I quote, without a care in the world for the grammar gods. Long, unbroken strings of plain text sends a great many ADDers straight to la-la land 🙂 — or running off to another site, most likely, just because it LOOKs hard to read or boring.

              HOWEVER, working together, we could probably come up with a way to get my readers to read something on my site, with enough content up-front and an interesting teaser that some, at least, would go read more. Many of the writers would probably take a look, in any case.

              Either way, I will back link to my April Mental Health Awareness post so be SURE I know when it posts — which is scheduled for April Fools Day, come to think of it – which may have to CHANGE!!!!


  18. robjodiefilogomo says:

    This is so relatable and I find myself doing the same thing! I had to share this on FB too, not that it’ll change anyone’s mind (ha ha) but the science is so interesting!

    I was just saying to my mom the other day about changing our minds about our beliefs in fashion. She keeps saying that she’s done it this way for 70 years that it’s too hard to change. And since she’s a feminist, I pointed out to her, how hard it must have been for all the males to be okay with women working in her time then. If we have a hard time with clothing changes (which is not a value or an ethical point) then how hard is it to change the thinking on important things? (Am I babbling or did this make an ounce of sense??)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perfect sense, Jodi. (You never babble, btw)

      Our appearance is part of our concept of “self.” (would be a great article for your site, btw – little changes to “update” your look, and what it does for the brain to make them). I’d be happy to co-write it with you. You do the fashion changes and I’ll add the brain-based stuff.

      Your mom is a feminist? I knew I loved her for a reason beyond her clothing! 🙂 But then, many in the “older” generation lived through the bad ole’ days and most of us don’t want to see them return.


      • robjodiefilogomo says:

        OMG Madelyn—that would be an incredible collaboration. If you’re up for it, I’m all in!! This week is a crazy one for me as I had a hard time saying no to a couple of friends—ha ha (the psychology behind that could be priceless!). But maybe we could hash out some details later next week (email me at jodie@jtouchofstyle.com). It’d have to be for a week later in March or April (did I tell you that I’m a planner?? LOL)

        I’d love to do it as a series which means 3 posts—are you up to something like that?

        Any ideas? I always think about updating a look can be huge with the selection of shoes? Alterations could be one category??
        Have I told you lately that you’re brilliant??
        Happy Monday!!

        Liked by 2 people

        • This is exciting – your time challenges and mine are more similar than you could imagine. And yes, I am a “brilliant” stuttering wonder of a mess, limping along as best I can! lol 🙂

          As you probably already realize from reading my blog, “brief” is not my strength (and isn’t that the understatement of the decade?!) – so a series sounds perfect.

          I despise email, however. I’ll send my *private* phone number and we can set a couple of phone appointments at mutually convenient times. I’m on New York time and a *confirmed* nite owl due to my sleep disorder. You?

          btw-in the “alterations” category, a before and after would be amazing – even tho’ it would take considerably more lead time to use the same garment, similar ones could be used (and second-hand stores would probably yield some of the “older” looks – even if the “newer” ones weren’t actually altered). I salvaged a few really expensive blazers by removing the shoulder pads alone (broad shoulders, so I didn’t have to alter arm holes, etc.)

          LOTs to mine with this idea. It will be great fun to brainstorm with you.


  19. Lucy Brazier says:

    Very interesting as ever, I love learning about how the brain works. It’s that pesky human ego (I cannot be wrong! I am not stupid!) holding us back, I reckon.
    Brilliant, my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. How much because we are stubborn and hate to admit when we were wrong? Not me mind you just ‘someone’ I know……….😈

    Liked by 2 people

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