People Unsure of Beliefs Are More Close-Minded

People who are less confident in their beliefs are more reluctant than others to seek out opposing perspectives, researchers said today.

The findings, which are based on a review of more than 90 studies, shed light on the debate over whether people intentionally steer clear of views conflicting with their own, or whether they are just exposed more often to ideas that conform to their own.

The former seems to be the case. Another recent study revealed that college students gravitated toward news that fit their views.

While it's not news that like-minded people often flock together, the new review suggests we actively keep our blinders on when opposing views are nearby. The review is detailed this month in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

Some more so than others …

Overall, the studies suggested people are about twice as likely to cherry-pick information that supports their own viewpoints than to consider an opposing idea. Nearly 70 percent cherry-picked compared to about 30 percent who ponder the other side.

Close-minded individuals opted for information that went along with their views 75 percent of the time.

"Close-minded people are very certain and dogmatic in their views, and generally believe that there is a single correct point of view," said study researcher Dolores Albarracin, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The implication is that you have a group of people who would only seek to confirm their points of view, resisting all evidence to the contrary via avoidance of exposure."

And since even a slight breeze could flatten a house of cards, the researchers found people with little confidence in their own beliefs are less likely to expose themselves to contrary views compared with their confident counterparts. In fact, another recent study showed that people with stronger party affiliation and greater interest in politics were more likely to read articles with opposing views.

The new study, however, found politics can prompt blinders: People are more reluctant to look at different viewpoints regarding political, religious or ethical values, the studies showed. Specifically, study participants stuck with their own ideas 70 percent of the time when it came to issues of moral values or politics, compared with 60 percent for other issues.

"If you are really committed to your own attitude — for example, if you are a very committed Democrat — you are more likely to seek congenial information, that is, information that corresponds with your views," Albarracin said.

Political and moral views are more open to personal interpretation anyway, than for example some scientific concept. "Political and moral issues are more inherently a personal judgment," Albarracin told LiveScience. "There is no risk of experiencing the effects of being inaccurate as you have in science. Hence people are free to seek information that confirms their attitudes pretty exclusively."

When you need the opposition

Sometimes you can't avoid the opposition, and it can even benefit you. The researchers found that politicians and others who need to publicly defend themselves are motivated to learn about opposing ideas.

For practical matters, different viewpoints are also necessary. "If you're going to buy a house and you really like the house, you're still going to have it inspected," Albarracin said.

Similarly, even if you trust your surgeon, you are likely to seek out a second opinion regarding a major operation, she added.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.