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I am coming at this thinking about two different situations.

  1. Those in political parties digging in their heels and doubling down on their beliefs.
  2. Friends or relationship partners standing their ground harder and harder in an argument.

Why do we do this? I have briefly asked some friends why we do this and the answers are all vague, non-descriptive, or circular, such as:

  • Because it's human nature (non-descriptive)
  • Because it makes us angry when the other person says X perspective (why does it make us angry?)
  • Because it hurts to be confronted with knowledge that is outside your comfort zone (why does it hurt exactly?)
  • Because we have a need to be right...
  • ...

But none of these are satisfying answers. I would like an answer that gets at the core of why this is, some sort of mathematical or highly logical answer.

Basically these answers point at some underlying mathematical or logical reason that is not easy to articulate clearly. For some reason getting confronted with a perspective that doesn't agree with your own makes people angry and double down on their own beliefs.

If I try to find a deeper reason or meaning for this, I say basically that you essentially have a sphere of awareness or knowledge. Anything outside of that knowledge that conflicts with your existing knowledge makes you try to reject it. BUT WHY? Obviously some people can short circuit this process and learn to ACCEPT new information by reasoning through it, even if it is uncomfortable at first. BUT WHY IS IT UNCOMFORTABLE? Also I'm not talking about those people, I'm talking about the ones (and it happens to everyone under certain circumstances) who double down on their perspective. Those who you can feel are digging in their heels.

Why do they double down? Why do they dig in their heels? Because it makes you feel good. But why does it make you feel good? Because you are right and your worldview is not shaken. But why does this feel good? Or from a different angle, they do this because hearing the perspective makes them angry. But why does it make you angry? Because it disagrees with your perspective? Why does disagreeing with your perspective make you angry? Because it is a form of change perhaps? But why does change cause anger? Because it disrupts the balance?

I don't know. What are the deeper reasons why people do this, and then not stopping there... What is the deeper reason for that, and for that and for that? Such that the real answer will be some sort of psychological axiom, an assumption that EVERYONE agrees is true and doesn't require further explanation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Humans are neither particularly mathematical nor logical. "Why" questions are incredibly difficult to answer scientifically. It's straightforward to describe these tendencies but not to explain them. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Oct 3 '20 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ It helps to know the technical term for this phenomenon: Confirmation Bias. This bias is one of the most common topics on this forum, see for example Denial of evidence and reason for a list of duplicates. This particular question is most closely a duplicate of What is the connection between cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias? - confirmation bias is a preferred method for reducing the cognitive dissonance that results from feeling wrong. $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Oct 4 '20 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ But why does cognitive dissonance feel bad or why does it work? $\endgroup$ – Lance Pollard Oct 4 '20 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'd also ask the question: what is the alternative? You believe in something (and might be right), and someone else is telling you you should believe something else. Should you just answer 'sure'? Or, 'I don't care'? Neither seem congruent with the world view you have at that point, being you believe in something different. What if you then need to act based on held believes, which is a common reason conflicts in belief arise in the first place. Instead, people start to explain why they believe in something, which I guess can easily be perceived as 'doubling down'. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Oct 5 '20 at 7:18
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(why does it make us angry?) (why does it hurt exactly?)

Your question made me think of the work of Festinger, Riecken & Schachter (1956) In their book "When Prophecy Fails" they follow a UFO religion as it anticipates an apocalypse. The authors believe that the group's beliefs are brought on by five conditions:

  • A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he or she behaves.

  • A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he or she behaves.

  • The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief.

  • The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.

  • Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.

  • The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

The authors argue that cognitive dissonance drives the behavior and that when confronted with disconfirming evidence they seek relief, in some cases, they try to find evidence that confirms their view rather than one that disconfirms it.

Using these as a guideline, one could measure someone's commitment or belief on an issue, and from there have a better idea of how likely they are to change their mind on a topic when presented with evidence that counters their belief.

It should be noted, though that the methods of study used by the authors of the book have been heavily criticized. The validity of their claims is questionable.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails

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