Why being wrong makes us angry

Christie Aschwanden is a science journalist. Last month, she joined a lot of other science journalists at the National Association of Science Writers conference and gave a short Ignite presentation about why people get angry when presented with evidence that their beliefs are wrong. She's posted a storyboard of the presentation to The Last Word on Nothing blog. It's definitely worth a read.

I’m married to an amazing guy. Dave is like those honeybees that always know the way back to the hive. Me, I’ve gotten myself lost in the Hearst building. We’ll be hiking and we’ll come to a split in the trail and I’ll point one way and say, we need to go here. And Dave will say no, actually, this is the right way (as he points in the opposite direction). And I’ll insist that, no, this is the way.

And then he’ll point out that my way peters out below some cliff face. Which only pisses me off. The more evidence he shows me that I’m wrong, the more insistent I become — I’m right and he’s wrong. And it’s not just me. This political scientist named Brendan Nyhan at Dartmouth has documented what happens when you show people evidence that their beliefs are wrong.

So when Dave tells me that his way is right and mine is straight up a cliff, I think, oh yeah? Well I’m smart, independent and capable, so therefore I’m correct. I would never point us in the wrong direction. See, it’s never really about the hiking trail.

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