I’m currently reading Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling by James E. Alcock and I noted with interest that some key chapters address knowledge practices and/or issues and factors relevant to them:
- Chapter 2 notes the ways cognitive ‘schemas’ often automatically fill in the gaps when responding to partial or ambiguous information (i.e. unconsciously);
- Chapter 6 addresses psychological processes in the processing of new information. Alcock argues that the brain has a default bias towards acceptance rather than doubt. That is, “our brains initially accept information to be true, and only in a second stage evaluate it and then possibly deem it false”, a dynamic argued to be related to an initial focus comprehension which may be followed by evaluation;
- The chapter on belief stability discusses the frequent reluctance to change deeply ingrained beliefs and related responses to new information (Chapter 7); and
- Chapter 8 addresses the role of anxiety in how people process new information, factors which “increase vulnerability to persuasion” (especially where manipulation is involved and/or information isn’t credible), and social contagion dynamics.
In many ways Chapter 7 is the most important because it discusses major tendencies to seek information that supports beliefs and, on the other hand, to downplay, ignore, or reinterpret information that challenges important beliefs. It details key strategies that are commonly used to downplay, ignore, or reinterpret information that challenges beliefs.
Additionally, there is some useful material on the extent to which belief and related practices rely on trust and authority, which points to additional relevant social factors.
Overall, it’s a useful book on the psychology of belief which emphasises “how vulnerable is our thinking to distortion and error and how at times our beliefs are based only in fantasy” (p.519), suggesting this is insufficiently considered. The knowledge practice themes noted above point to the potential roles of such practices in these phenomena.
Alcock, J. E. (2018), Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling, Prometheus Books.