October 23, 2010

People whose confidence in closely held beliefs gets undermined may become stronger advocates of those beliefs

When in Doubt, Shout! Paradoxical Influences of Doubt on Proselytizing
by David Gal and Derek D. Rucker

A seminal case study by Festinger found, paradoxically, that evidence that disconfirmed religious beliefs increased individuals’ tendency to proselytize to others. Although this finding is renowned, surprisingly, it has never been subjected to experimental scrutiny and is open to multiple interpretations. We examined a general form of the question first posed by Festinger, namely, how does shaken confidence influence advocacy? Across three experiments, people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined. The effect was attenuated when individuals affirmed their beliefs, and was moderated by both importance of the belief and open-mindedness of a message recipient. These findings not only have implications for the results of Festinger’s seminal study, but also offer new insights into people’s motives for advocating their beliefs.



  1. I recently debated a creationist who, when confronted with a quote that hinted that the world is flat and has corners, proceeded to demonstrate that the world has corners. My attempt to point a flaw in the Bible only deepened his convictions.

    I recently heard something that made this a little more clear. Basically, our mind is geared towards narrative, towards stories. So, we don't need more facts, we already have all the facts required, what we need are better stories.

  2. Hi Peter, thanks. I agree. I associate this too with the so-called reactance effect about which I have written on this site too. I've been puzzled by this for a very long time. How to talk with or educate people about such things without triggering a defensive response. My latest post mentions a quote by the wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson which sounds very wise to me (see here: http://ow.ly/2YHiV )

  3. Well, I guess this is why I LOVE Reverend Tyson and I'm allergic to Dawkins. To connect to the kindness post, I view Tyson as kind and Dawkins as unkind. I'm not judging Dawkins, I'm not saying that he IS UNKIND, just that this is the way I perceive him.

    I could watch Tyson all day, for Dawkins, the planets need to be aligned for me to go through a 90 session of him alone. :)

  4. Derren Brown writes something else, a few pages further, which I like:

    "Each of us is leading a difficult life, and when we meet people we are seeing only a tiny part of the thinnest veneer of their complex, troubled existences. To practise anything other than kindness towards them, to treat them in any way save generously, is to quietly deny their humanity."

    I thought you would really like that quote.

    By the way, I do like Dawkins. I think he is doing fantastic work and something of a hero of our time.

  5. I like what Dawkins is doing too. I might not like his methods but his heart is in the right place.

    He is to me like a bitter medicine. Doing good but tasting oh so awful at times. :)

    You are right, I love the quote. I saved it. :) It reminds me of Plato's "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." :)


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