group think

the inability to reconsider (or even see) built in assumptions is something that is very interesting to me about people. @texaszman pointed to this interesting article on twitter this morning.

check out this bit here:

My theory—call it the “Oakley effect”—is that really smart people often don’t know how to accept and react constructively to criticism.  (A neuroscientist might say they “have underdeveloped neurocircuitry for integrating negatively valenced stimuli.”)  This is because smart people are whizzes at problems that only need one person to figure out.  Indeed, people are evaluated from kindergarten through college prep SATs on the basis of such “single solver” problems.  If you are often or nearly always right with these kinds of problems, your increased confidence in your own abilities would be accompanied by an inadvertent decrease in your capacity to deal with criticism.  After all, your experience would have shown that your critics were usually wrong.

But most large-scale societal issues are not single solver problems.  They are so richly complex that no single person can faultlessly teach him or herself all the key concepts, which are often both contradictory and important.  Yes, smart people have an advantage in dealing with such problems, because they’ve got natural brain-power that allows them to hold many factors in mind at once, bringing formidable problem-solving skills to bear.  But smart people have a natural disadvantage, too: they’re not used to changing their thinking in response to criticism when they get things wrong.

In fact, natural smarties—the intellectual elite—often don’t seem to learn the art of soliciting the criticism necessary to grasp the core issues of a complex problem, and then making vital adaptations as a result.  Instead, they fall in naturally with people who admire, rather than are critical, of their thinking.  This further strengthens their conviction they are right even as it distances them from people of very different backgrounds who grasp very different, but no less crucial aspects of complex problems. That’s why the intellectual elite is often branded by those from other groups as out of touch.

I think the tendency to fall in with people who agree with us and admire our thinking is common to all humans.

Having our assumptions/worldview challenged is an unpleasant experience. If we really know/like/admire/respect the challenger, we will put up with it a few times, but eventually we will stay out of range of the challenge. If we don’t know/like/admire/respect the challenger then he or she will get one unsuccessful crack at getting us to reexamine our worldview.

It is a rare person who can stand getting their assumptions challenged on a regular basis. It is an even rarer person who can even bear the thought of recalibrating their assumptions/worldview in light of new evidence. It is an exceedingly rare person who can change their way of thinking about even the smallest of things.

what would the application be for a person who wants to persuade people to take a particular course of action or support a particular idea?

does it matter if the course of action or idea is counterintuitive?

does it matter if the course of action or idea is extremely unpopular?

does it matter if following the course of action or supporting the idea will lead to personal discomfort or danger to the follower and their family?





Obviously, something supernatural would have to be at work for anyone to choose to follow that course of action or support that idea, wouldn’t it?


2 Responses

  1. I was hoping you’d get to the crucial point at the end…and you did. I Corinthians 2:4-5 “and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom…so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” If you can talk someone into being saved, someone else can talk them out of it. Faith has to come by the power of God.

  2. amen sister. I also like a few verses before in I Corinthians 1:18-25 where Paul says:

    18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    19For it is written:
    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
    20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

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