Some people form a belief and become absolutely resistant to any contrary evidence or reasoning. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, these people stick to their beliefs. I'm pretty sure this is something that has been investigated by cognitive sciences, and I'd like to know what this phenomenon is called as I'd like to learn more about it.

So, what is the mechanism of this denial-of-evidence called?

I recently came to the conclusion that a lot of people who hold onto conspiracies and the like show similar behaviors to religious fanatics. The way these conspiracy-believers argue and the way they react when confronted with critique or even evidence seems to be similar, no matter what conspiracy-topic it's about (with varying degrees of fanaticism, of course; some can still be reached with reason while others are so deep into their belief-system that they cannot be reached any longer). I find this strangely fascinating and would like to understand the "mechanics" of this phenomenon.

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  • $\begingroup$ The terms denial and cognitive bias risks promoting the point of view that data and facts are always superior resources for decision-making to be preferred over emotion and gut intuition. But emotional reasoning is there to call bullshit on biased data and/or protect an individual from reductionistic categories or manipulated results imposed from a fact generated by a person or system with an agenda. Denial can be functional. Both systems of reasoning are useful. $\endgroup$ Feb 2 '16 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ I have know a number of very Intelligent, educated persons who can't escape the gravity of their own illogical beliefs, such as religion! I believe intelligence alone, (the ability to gather and retain data), is insufficient on its own to analyze then apply that data. Application is critical to unique thought development! I think the answer lies in their inability to process that date which requires a higher intellect or processer if you will. A higher intellect will develop a more logical outcome or more factually rooted conclusion. $\endgroup$
    – user10623
    Feb 3 '16 at 13:54

Confirmation bias:

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

A feature of this bias is belief perseverance:

... when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false ...

Confirmation bias is an umbrella term for a variety of strategies and effects that may be applicable in different situations, including self-justification, self-verification, attitude polarization, escalation of commitment, cherry picking, etc, etc. See the duplicate questions I listed in the comments above for more varieties of these. You may find that some sub-category of confirmation bias is more apt to your question.

Note: Cognitive dissonance refers to the cause of a number of possible inconsistency reduction strategies, of which belief perseverance is one.

Note: Denial refers to an ego-defence mechanism - ie, it applies only if the person feels personally threatened by the inconsistency.


According to the Wikipedia's page on Cognitive Dissonance :

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

Therefore, individuals try to reduce the discomfort by having the attitude you described:

If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others.


Actually it is simply called denial as a defense mechanism . as you may have already know, most of our cognition happens in a subconscious and semiconscious level. a belief system is usually what people learn in their childhood and from their parents so it really sticks to brain and goes underlying the whole subconscious and semiconscious thought. So, when you try to convince them that their belief is wrong, they simply alter their perception in advantage of their belief and since they don't do it on a conscious level they are not aware of it. The whole point of this mechanism is to avoid distress over the organization of thoughts and behavior. Some people lives are based on their beliefs so it's so simplistic that one assumes it can be changed overnight, because if it does, mental distress will result in a mental breakdown.


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