Have you ever convinced anyone that disagreed with you about a deeply held belief?
Better yet, have you changed your mind lately on an important topic after discussing with someone else that did not share your point of view?
Let’s face it, if the topic of the discussion is not trivial, it is far easier to just keep repeating our (obviously bullet-proof) reasons and wonder why others don’t just recognize our view as being the “correct” one. And we have proof that, the wider the gap between our own views and those of someone who disagrees with us, the stronger the impact of Naïve realism, and so we find no phenomenological trace of self-interested bias in the way we have considered the pertinent arguments.
A study by Ross, McGuire and Minson named The relationship between self-other disagreement and the perceived impact of biasing versus normative considerations on own versus others’ opinions clearly demonstrates the impact of naive realism.
Here is the experiment performed by the Authors:
- a large sample of participants was asked to fill out a survey indicating their positions on various issues such as affirmative action, capital punishment, and abortion rights and how much they approved of various political figures, such as then VP Dick Cheney and Senator Hillary Clinton, and media sources
- then the surveys were collected and redistributed at random to other participants
- next, the participants were asked to rate how similar the views of the person whose questionnaire they had received were to their own views
- finally, they were asked to assess the extent to which they felt that that person’s views, as well as their own views, reflected various considerations: some were ones that are generally regarded as reasonable and valid, such as attention to fact, concern with justice, and appropriate attention to long-term consequences, but others specified biases such as desire for peer approval, wishful thinking, and political correctness.
The results are clear: the more the other person’s views differed from the respondents’, the more the other’s views were assessed as bias rather than rational considerations:
The levels of disagreement represented along the abscissa correspond to participants’ self-rated similarity between their own position and that of the fellow student whose responses they had seen, with 0 representing perfect similarity. The data in this figure reflect that there was a high negative correlation between perceived discrepancy and other’s good reasons minus biases, and a more modest positive correlation between perceived discrepancy and own bias minus own good reasons.
Interestingly, the level of disagreement did not exert much influence on the degree to which participants felt their own views reflected valid considerations rather than bias, nor did marked disagreement make them more open to the possibility that they had been less than objective. Actually, when the disagreement was greatest, participants not only tended to be especially harsh in their assessment of the other’s views, they also tended to be especially generous in how they assessed the rationality of their own views.
This pattern of ratings originates from the fact that most of the mental processes that allow us to make sense of the world operate automatically and without our awareness. Naïve realism gives us the impression that we see things the way they are, not as filtered or constructed in light of our expectations, preferences, or ideology. It is then obvious to seeing alternative views as the product of minds with wheels spinning in the wrong direction.