We are stubborn. And sometimes we like to oppose and contradict, only for the sake of it. And while we love to think to be congruent, the truth is that we often fall into the clutches of “cognitive biases”. A recent study at Lund University showed that most of the people reject their arguments 60% of the time if presented by someone else.
Selective laziness in action
The study in question refers to a phenomenon known in the field of psychology as “selective laziness”. This definition means that we tend to evaluate thoroughly only the arguments coming from other persons, especially when we have already disagreed with them in the past.
To demonstrate this phenomenon, the researchers recruited a number of volunteers and asked them to solve some problems of logic, in the form of syllogisms. Then they had to write down some arguments to support their answers.
Following, the participants were asked to read a series of answers to the same problems, with different arguments to support them. They were told that participants of a previous experiment had given those answers before them, and that their mission was to decide whether these arguments were valid or not.
The trick consisted that some of the arguments shown were actually answers given by the same volunteers themselves, who wrote them in the first phase of the experiment. However, they were convinced that those arguments belonged to another participant.
Interestingly, 60% of the time people rejected their own arguments, saying that were wrong. This phenomenon increased even more when they previously detected erroneous arguments in the questionnaire that the supposed “participant” filled before.
Thus, it was observed that we’re particularly critical with our own arguments when introduced by another person and, if we disagreed with that person in the past, we will be even more likely to reject his/her ideas, even if matching with ours. This means that our ability to accept an argument depends largely on where it comes from.
What lies behind the selective laziness?
What happens is that seeking arguments to support our ideas, we get carried away by selective laziness, we don’t evaluate the pros and cons of the idea but prefer to appeal to intuitive responses. In short, we don’t judge our reason but, we become harsh judges of the others’reason.
In practice, we are very good at detecting the speck in our neighbor's eye but often we overlook the beam in our own. And this phenomenon is even more evident when that person has already been wrong in the past or we know in advance that doesn’t share our ideas.
However, selective laziness is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when we’re in a group it can give rise to debate and enrich the conversation. But it is important no to be excessively critical with others, because it could turn us into rigid persons who, instead of learning, prefer to hide behind some poor arguments.
Trouche, E. et. Al. (2015) The Selective Laziness of Reasoning. Cognitive Science; 1-15.
Selective Laziness: We’d reject our arguments 60% of the time if presented by another person
4/ 5Oleh Jennifer Delgado