Comic beautifully shows why we can’t accept facts contrary to what we believe
Want to know why it’s so hard to accept a fact that’s contrary to a belief you’ve held since childhood?
Seek no further than The Oatmeal‘s excellent new comic which shows how something called “the backfire effect” can stop humans from accepting new facts, especially if they’re contrary to their own strong beliefs.
The comic starts with some facts on George Washington’s teeth, and then takes you through a smorgasbord of other hard-to-believe facts, some of which you’ll have a harder time accepting than others.
It then explains that this is just human nature, stemming from the way humans evolved to fend off predators. While there’s not too much we can do about it, we can at least be aware of it and make sure we’re not blocking out facts for no good reason.
A comic may not sound like the best way to learn about the way your brain works, but this one appears well-researched and supported by multiple sources.
The Oatmeal, drawn and written by Matthew Inman, is known for its edgy comics which sometimes challenge beliefs that are commonly taken as facts. One example is its comic on Nikola Tesla, which praises Tesla — not Thomas Edison — as father of the electric age and, generally, a greater inventor of the two. The comic was followed by a fundraiser campaign to convert Wardenclyffe, Nikola Tesla’s laboratory located in Shoreham, NY, into a museum.
The new comic is particularly relevant as it comes at a time when fake news is one of the biggest issues plaguing social media and the internet. For more on the backfire effect and human tendency to disregard facts when they challenge their core beliefs, read a recent excellent article by The New Yorker here, as well as a Darthmouth study on political misperceptions (and how tough it is to challenge them) here.