From “How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion” by David McRaney
When I asked Broockman and Kalla for a lead or two, they said to look deeper into something psychologists call elaboration, a state of active learning in which a person unpacks a new idea by relating to something they already understand. For example, on first viewing, you might describe Alien as “Jaws in space,” but, if you saw Alien first, you might describe Jaws as “Alien in the ocean.” Most of the time, when on autopilot or performing routine tasks, we see the world as we expect to see it, and most of the time that’s fine; but the brain often gets things wrong because it prefers to sacrifice accuracy for speed. When we stop ourselves from going with our first instincts, or our “guts,” when we are thinking about our own thinking, we become more open to elaborating, to adding something new to ourselves by reaching a deeper understanding of something we thought we already understood quite well. In short, deep canvassing likely encourages elaboration by offering people an opportunity to stop and think.
Dave Fleischer told me that people don’t get a chance to reflect like this very often. Daily concerns take up people’s cognitive resources providing lunch money for their kids, evaluating their performance at work, planning who will take the car to get repaired. Without a chance to introspect, we remain overconfident in our understanding of the issues about which we are most passionate. That overconfidence translates to certainty, and we use that certainty to support extreme views.
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