WHY DO WE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS? RECENT TRENDS IN COGNITIVE FAILURES RESEARCH IN SLOVAKIA

V. Čavojová, I. Brezina

Slovak Academy of Sciences (SLOVAKIA)
Why do people fall for some ridiculous beliefs? The main aim of this paper was to review findings dealing with questions of human irrationality – why do we fall prey to various cognitive biases and weird beliefs. In the first part of the paper we focused on research related to predictors of rational thinking, such as cognitive ability, thinking dispositions, mindware instantiation, and their interaction; this research is rooted in dual-process theories and the results of our research team contribute to the debate of human rationality and directly support the hybrid theories of dual processes.

We further expanded the research to unfounded beliefs, as a manifestation of epistemic rationality. Scientific reasoning correlates positively with dispositions towards analytic thinking and cognitive ability and negatively with dogmatism, epistemically suspect beliefs, and susceptibility to cognitive biases; it contributes to both susceptibility to cognitive biases and to epistemically suspect beliefs over and above the other cognitive predictors. These results suggest that scientific-reasoning ability is an important factor in protecting against epistemically suspect beliefs, and in aiding better decision-making among the non-scientific population. We also included non-cognitive factors in our research program. We found that prior attitudes were the strongest predictor of myside bias, even after controlling for logical ability (the ability to solve neutral syllogisms) and previous experience with courses of logic. Similarly, we examined also personality traits in relation to perceived truthfulness of nonsense statements (so-called bullshit) and conspiracy thinking.

In the last section of the paper, we reviewed several effective interventions to reduce cognitive biases, such as framing the intervention, using personal examples, contrafactual thinking and using a foreign language. We are aware there is no single easy way how to overcome the tendency toward miserly processing, but our research program aims to inform the debiasing strategies that can be used in an educational context.

There are three main approaches how to implement debiasing strategies into education:
(1) by focusing on the learner (e.g. promoting their scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills, raising awareness about biases and ways to counter them, etc.);
(2) by focusing on the information (e.g. changing format of information to be more easily processed); and
(3) focusing on the context (e.g. promoting argumentative interaction to avoid confirmation bias, etc.).

Overcoming the cognitive biases that lead us to adopt unsubstantiated beliefs should be one of the concerns of modern education.