Believe it? Or not…

Objective reasoning is challenging when people evaluate information they already hold an opinion on, a Victoria researcher has found.

Recently, Dr Matt McCrudden, an associate professor of Education, asked secondary and tertiary students to read texts about controversial topics such as same sex marriage and climate change.

He found that students tended to evaluate information in a way that was biased toward their prior beliefs.

“This was particularly pronounced when they read weak arguments,” says Matt. “They were far more critical of information that was inconsistent with their own beliefs.”

Matt says one possible way to minimise belief-motivated reasoning in an educational setting is to ask students to evaluate the evidence and reasoning used to support both sides of an issue.

“This may prompt students to actively question their beliefs, seriously consider alternative views or update their topic knowledge. However, more research is needed to understand the conditions under which task instructions affect belief-motivated reasoning.”