Good News for People Who Love Bad News*

by | Feb 17, 2017

“When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”                             -John Maynard Keynes

What actually happens to our beliefs when we are confronted with facts that suggest our beliefs are wrong? Do we change our minds?

A study from last year explores this concept in the context of climate change beliefs. In the study participants were grouped into three categories: (1) those with low belief that climate change is occurring or that humans are causing it (“low CCB” in the below chart), (2) those with high belief that climate change is occurring and that humans are causing it (“high CCB”), and (3) those in the middle (“middle CCB”).

The participants from all three categories were then placed into two groups – one group was presented with positive information about climate change – that new research indicated that climate change will not be very severe, while the other was presented opposite information – that research is finding that climate change will be very severe.

The study found that we process facts with asymmetry based on our beliefs. We give great credence to facts that support our views and little validity to contrary facts.


The conclusions of this study have applicability far beyond climate change – we all weigh facts based on our prior beliefs in many areas, particularly in the political realm.  The problem with asymmetrical weighing of facts is, according to the study:  “When society is divided, it follows that, whether good or bad, new information can heighten polarization.” This is true even when we are receiving the same information.

If you are like me, you readily notice the asymmetrical weighing of facts in others, but we are not very good at noting our own asymmetrical weighing of facts. Yet we all do it.  Try stopping and noting how you react to facts contrary to your beliefs. Note whether you are really giving credence to facts contrary to your own beliefs

*”Good News For People Who Love Bad News” is the title of a fantastic album by Modest Mouse. I highly recommend it.

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