Being In Denial Isn’t Caused By Being Uneducated

Humans are hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview
Whether in situations relating to scientific consensus, economic history or current political events, denialism has its roots in what psychologists call ‘motivated reasoning.’

Yet many well-educated people sincerely deny evidence-based conclusions on these matters.

But things don’t work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone’s ideological worldview.

“Motivated reasoning” is what social scientists call the process of deciding what evidence to accept based on the conclusion one prefers.

Insofar as you define yourself in terms of your cultural affiliations, information that threatens your belief system – say, information about the negative effects of industrial production on the environment – can threaten your sense of identity itself. If it’s part of your ideological community’s worldview that unnatural things are unhealthful, factual information about a scientific consensus on vaccine or GM food safety feels like a personal attack.

For example, as Jost and colleagues extensively review, populations experiencing economic distress or external threat have often turned to authoritarian, hierarchicalist leaders promising security and stability.

Under the right conditions, universal human traits like in-group favoritism, existential anxiety and a desire for stability and control combine into a toxic, system-justifying identity politics.

Simply put, a lot of this has to do with your perception of reality, rather than your intelligence.

And an intuition that I have that relates to being in denial is that the faster and greater the change, the greater the chance the person will be in denial over it, often having to go through an arduous grieving process to work through that change. This is why a lot of CEOs can be seen in complete denial, almost delusional, when their world comes crashing down literally overnight.

In a more general way though, anyone who has benefited from a stable system that has generated security for them over a long period of time will probably have a greater chance of denial if that change and disruption occurs at a rapid pace.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for the roleplaying game called Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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