Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Overconfidence bolsters anti-scientific views


  News Release 20-Jul-2022
Overconfidence bolsters anti-scientific views, PSU study finds
Peer-Reviewed Publication
Portland State University

Historically, the scientific community has relied on educating the public in order to increase agreement with scientific consensus. New research from Portland State University suggests why this approach has seen only mixed results.

“Human opposition to scientific consensus is an extremely important topic. For many years, smart people thought that the way to bring people more in line with scientific consensus was to teach them the knowledge they lacked,” said Nick Light, a PSU assistant professor of marketing. “Unfortunately, educational interventions haven't worked very well.”

Light’s research titled “Knowledge overconfidence is associated with anti-consensus views on controversial scientific issues,” was published recently in Science Advances.

“Our research suggests that there may be a problem of overconfidence getting in the way of learning, because if people think they know a lot, they have minimal motivation to learn more,” Light said. “People with more extreme anti-scientific attitudes might first need to learn about their relative ignorance on the issues before being taught specifics of established scientific knowledge.”


Light said they found that in general, as people's attitudes on an issue get further from scientific consensus, their assessments of their own knowledge of that issue increases, but their actual knowledge decreases. Take COVID-19 vaccines, for example. The less an individual agrees with the COVID-19 vaccine, the more they believe they know about it, but their factual knowledge is more likely to be lower.


The degree to which attitudes on an issue are tied up with political or religious identities could affect whether this pattern exists for that issue, Light added.


Shifting focus from individual knowledge to the influence of experts is one possibility raised by  Light and his coauthors. The power of social norms despite personal views is also impactful. In Japan, for example, many people wore COVID-19 transmission-reducing masks not to mitigate personal risk, but to conform to a societal norm.

“People tend to do what they think their community expects them to do,” Light said. While blindly following the consensus isn’t generally recommended, if anti-consensus attitudes create dangerous situations for the community, “it is incumbent on society to try to change minds in favor of the scientific consensus.”

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