Let me tell you a story. Today during lunch I did what I always do, I read an article by people who are supposed to be much smarter than I am. Surprisingly what I read explained my interactions with other people, especially when it comes to their disdain for data and preference for personal stories.
As I processed this article, I began to realize that there is a biological reason for why we prefer to believe the anecdotes our friends tell rather than cold, hard, facts. It turns out we humans are hardwired to prefer narrative.
Apparently a bunch of really smart scientist-people at Emory University did some tests and they discovered that hearing a story releases a chemical called oxytocin (don’t get excited, that’s different than oxycodone) and as it happens, this is the chemical released by breastfeeding mothers that illicits bonding.
“Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate School, found that reading simple, humanistic stories changes what is in our blood streams. Taking blood samples of subjects before and after reading a story about a father and his terminally ill son, Zak found their blood levels contained an increase of cortisol and also oxytocin after reading the story. Called the human bonding or empathy chemical, oxytocin is also released by breastfeeding mothers.” (1)
In addition, brain scans of subjects who listened to stories “showed heightened connectivity in a specific part of the brain. The left temporal cortex lit up, and not just for the period immediately following the reading assignments. The neural changes persisted for several days. This is why we sometimes say that a story was so powerful we just can’t seem to shake it.” There and a few other factors make us select narrative over data.
And thus sat and wondered whether I should just give up on charts, facts, evidence, and perhaps just start telling stories.
The sad reality is, most of us would side with a bumper sticker over a philosophy book, just because one is easier to understand.
“The more difficult it becomes to process a series of statements, the less credit you give them overall. During metacognition, the process of thinking about your own thinking, if you take a step back and notice that one way of looking at an argument is much easier than another, you will tend to prefer the easier way to process information and then leap to the conclusion that it is also more likely to be correct.
In experiments where two facts were placed side by side, subjects tended to rate statements as more likely to be true when those statements were presented in simple, legible type than when printed in a weird font with a difficult-to-read color pattern. Similarly, a barrage of counterarguments taking up a full page seems to be less persuasive to a naysayer than a single, simple, powerful statement.”
-David McRaney, ‘You Are Not So Smart’ (1)
Memory is highly unreliable.
“Since the 1990s, whenDNA testing was first introduced, Innocence Project researchers have reported that 77 percent of the 239 convictions overturned through DNA testing were based on eyewitness testimony. One third of these overturned cases rested on the testimony of two or more mistaken eyewitnesses.”
“Many researchers have created false memories in normal individuals; what is more, many of these subjects are certain that the memories are real. In one well-known study, Loftus and her colleague Jacqueline Pickrell gave subjects written accounts of four events, three of which they had actually experienced. The fourth story was fiction; it centered on the subject being lost in a mall or another public place when he or she was between four and six years old. A relative provided realistic details for the false story, such as a description of the mall at which the subject’s parents shopped. After reading each story, subjects were asked to write down what else they remembered about the incident or to indicate that they did not remember it at all. Remarkably about one third of the subjects reported partially or fully remembering the false event. In two follow-up interviews, 25 percent still claimed that they remembered the untrue story, a figure consistent with the findings of similar studies.” (1)
A few studies of drug/alcohol rehab found that religious rehab programs start off worse and cause more depression/anxiety than secular psychological treatment.
In two clinical trials, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse, “Some of the patients received spiritual guidance as part of the treatment… others received secular psychotherapy. Because of the enduring popularity… programs that involve a spiritual component, Miller and his team expected the patients in the spiritual group to do better than those in the secular group. They were wrong — at least in the short term.
While both groups eventually benefited relatively equally from their treatment — abusing substances on fewer days — it took *longer* to see improvement among those in the spiritual group.
What’s more, those who received spiritual guidance reported being significantly more anxious and depressed after four months than those who got secular help. Those problems abated at about the eight-month point, but because substance abusers are at high risk for suicide, some worry that it may not be a good idea to put them through demanding spiritual calisthenics in the early months of their recovery.
This amplifies a fascinating 1997 paper which found that patients who reported knowing that someone was praying for them used significantly more substances after leaving treatment than those who didn’t know someone was praying for them.” (1)
Interesting psych tidbit
Psychologists say that human men subjugation women in the same fashion as apes and that this is due to the biological drive to procreate.
Dr. Hector Garcia, professor in University of Texas states that: “Many male apes and monkeys will go to great lengths to stake their sexual claim to as many females as possible, and to police them from other males—as a male reproductive strategy, this has its advantages. But they also tend to attack females as punishment for sexual “infidelity,” or for even flirting with other males, such as by grooming them. Dominant chimpanzees will bypass the male of a tangoing pair and thrash the philandering female. Male apes chasing, restraining, biting, hitting, or dragging females all have been widely documented.”
“Men follow similar patterns of behavior. Research world-wide reveals that sexual jealousy is the primary driver behind domestic abuse and spousal homicide, which is almost always committed by men against women. Because men have historically been the makers of law, they have often coded law to favor male evolutionary strategies. For instance, until staggeringly recently (1974), it was legal in Texas to kill your wife if you caught her horizonalizing with a rival male.”
“No big surprise—men have also overwhelmingly been the makers of religious dicta, and its more chilling content often reflects distinctively male evolutionary concerns… Men often prefer to cloister their women, smother them in drapery, and drown them in sexual shame, claiming it is the will of God and for their “protection”. In reality, these behaviors guard against the lustful ambitions of competitor males, an ancient task of our male ancestry— evidenced in extant primates that mate-guard, herd away, or otherwise attempt to isolate their prospects from male rivals.
Seem more here:
Facts never win arguments because we are more likely to dig in our heels when we hear facts that disagree with our beliefs. This has been observed by psychologists in numerous studies and has been called the “The Backfire Effect”
David McRaney says “Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do this instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens those misconceptions instead.”
While scholars discovered that “under a lot of conditions, the mere existence of contradictory facts [to their beliefs] made people more sure of themselves — or made them claim to be more sure.”