“So much of what we think we know is based on what we have been told” —Pursuit of wonder
It is easy to forget that so much of what we believe now is simply a result of some people’s ideas that got accepted by the majority over time. They are not necessarily what everyone just accepted because they had already been thinking of the same thing, but rather what conforms to their already held beliefs and intuitions. Confirmation bias is when we accept new information based on what we already believe in.
The biases we tend to lean toward don’t just appear out of nowhere or from birth. Essentially, these are the results of what society and the information we consume have conditioned us to accept as acceptable and right.
In some cases, society takes a long time to accept these beliefs. It could be positive but also negative, which has profound effects when an entire culture, country, state, or even greater holds a wrong belief. Promotion of these beliefs usually depends on appealing to emotion, the reputation of the speaker, and fear of being marginalized.
The expert effect
Quite often, when someone well respected in general or in a field says something or makes a claim, we are usually fast to believe and accept such information. While they are mostly right, history has proven that we do have shifts in beliefs and experts being proven wrong time after time despite being accepted by their colleagues and the general public at the time.
Groupthink is much more dominant when we base our learning on what these experts say. When an expert speaks at a conference, on the radio, on television, or on any other platform about a subject, we tend to accept what they say more readily because “an expert said it”.
Regarding the media, we have been conditioned to accept what we get from them. As a result of being bombarded with the same information from multiple sources at once, we subconsciously agree with what they say on issues and topics we have no problem with in the first place.
With more and more people following these experts and the media, this snowball effect continues. The same beliefs are passed over generation after generation without question and are blindly accepted.
A study once showed that when a group of people is told to do what they want, they tend to instead imitate and follow others. This shows a tendency in humans to follow others and groups. This is commonly known as the bandwagon effect.
Anti Bandwagon effect
Plato’s allegory is a good example of what happens when you challenge the general belief after being exposed. Sometimes, you don’t have to be exposed to challenge the status quo. A simple “why is this so” can lead anyone down a rabbit hole of challenging their current beliefs.
History has shown that people who do this are usually regarded as crazy and even reviled. Most scientific breakthroughs have not come from scientific institutions in the past. Several came from natural philosophers who were very independent thinkers in their time, reviled by society, often persecuted, and fought against it based on their truths. Those truths were not accepted until decades or centuries later — often after their deaths.
A way out
Getting out of groupthink is not always easy since we end up questioning what we believe strongly. To help, here are a few ways to escape groupthink.
- Explore and test alternatives
- Gather information from outside sources
- Learn to think for yourself. Don’t just accept what society says
- Challenge every view you already have
- Explore the art of thinking outside the box