We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you think you’d know if your belief about something changed?

With midterm elections (in the United States) over, it leads me to question how our beliefs – whether political or not – are formed. Do they change after they’re formed, and how quickly and readily do moderate beliefs change?

Luckily for me, researchers have considered this question already. They have found that we’re actually not so good at understanding our own awareness and thinking (metacognitive awareness). Specifically, researchers have found that we don’t understand when and how much our beliefs actually change.

For example, undergraduate students were asked to focus on their beliefs on spanking as a form of discipline. They were asked to read texts that reviewed arguments for or against spanking, and asked questions about their belief in this topic. What they found: not only did students change their beliefs about spanking after reading text that argued against their stance… they reported wrongly that their beliefs matched the argument’s side beforehand. In other words, when asked to recall what their beliefs about spanking were before they read the text, they remembered incorrectly!

Moral of the story: we have to carefully evaluate what we read (and hear) – on the news, in our books, and online – and become more aware of how our beliefs can easily be changed without our awareness.