Why We Disagree So Strongly About Important Things
The locus of hardheadedness turns viewpoints into objective truths, no matter the facts
One of life’s most bizarre and frustrating conundrums is the warped reality in which nearly everyone on either side of controversial issues — abortion, gun control, election fraud, climate change, vaccine safety, you name it — all think their view is correct and the other side is flat wrong.
This stubborn, mathematically impossible absolutism contributes not just to social unrest but individual stress and anxiety, which are bad for physical and mental health. So maybe if we understood the cognitive science of polarized thinking — and defied our nature in order to be a wee bit more empathetic and flexible in our thought patterns — we might all find a little more harmony and well-being.
OK, fat chance. But anyway…
Recent research points to a physical locus of all our major disagreements, a highly efficient yet arguably flawed CPU that operates in the shadows of the mind to determine each person’s version of truth and stick to it, no matter what.
This “gestalt cortex” in the brain helps us quickly make sense of information that’s ambiguous, incomplete or that runs counter to our views, according to a review of 400 studies, published in the journal Psychological Review. It sits right behind the ear, acting as a junction box, or central processing unit, to organize and integrate what we see, hear and otherwise experience — all at lightning speed.
In its haste to be definitive, this gestalt cortex seems to have a serious shortcoming: Once it helps you settle on a viewpoint, it efficiently ignores inputs that run counter.
“The mind may initially process the world like a democracy where every alternative interpretation gets a vote, but it quickly ends up like an authoritarian regime where one interpretation rules with an iron fist and dissent is crushed,” explains study leader Matthew Lieberman, PhD, a psychology professor at UCLA. “In selecting one interpretation, the gestalt cortex…