If one looks at the comments section of any Facebook post about hot-button issues or politics, there may be someone who does not agree with what is being said. For example, in an argument about vaccines, an anti-vaxxer, or someone who does not believe in vaccinations, will point to unsubstantiated claims that link vaccines and autism to argue against the use of them.
Others may take the time to investigate these claims, looking for scientific validity and empiricism. However, it may be hard for people who do not understand scientific validity or sourcing information to accept knowledge that counteracts their opinion and beliefs. Why is there difficulty when it comes to informing some people on scientific or political facts? Is it better to be ignorant, or is it better to be informed?
Ignorance is bliss
How would you feel if someone told you what you believe in is wrong? You might feel as though they were attacking you, even if their intentions were genuine.
Research by Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan and Jason Reifler of Georgia State University calls this phenomenon the “backfire effect.” It states that people are more likely to believe that they are right if someone presents evidence that goes against their world view. This is because being presented with evidence can activate parts of your brain that cause physical pain, resulting in a fight or flight response. Some people will double down on their argument even if it makes no sense, or they will simply ignore the opposing information.
This is where the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” comes in. The argument goes, if you are coming across information that says you are wrong, ignoring it will lead to a happier life. It may sound logical to avoid the pain of being wrong, but being incorrect sometimes comes with consequences.
Knowledge is power
Sometimes, learning lessons the hard way is necessary to alter your worldview. For example, the biggest lesson I learned as a child came with a scar across my face. For others, it may be through an immeasurable amount of stress or heartbreak. Why is it that people learn more through some sort of pain, whether it be physical or psychological, than through happy experiences?
It is because we are designed to. After a painful incident, you probably remembered the discomfort that you went through and used what you learned to prevent that pain from coming back. If you deal with the psychological pain that comes with the backfire effect, you can learn more about preventing that pain from happening.
There will be a point in time when all ignorance will have to deal with the inevitable: facts. Whether it is related to climate change, the shape of the earth or the lack of a connection between vaccines and autism, these topics and their truths are starting to become common knowledge.
Putting up with a bit of pain to understand whether your worldview represents reality or not is beneficial in the long run. You will not have to deal with everyone telling you that you are wrong, which is painful in itself.