What Creates Your Beliefs

Deanna Kuhn conducted research about how much control people exercise over making their own decisions versus how much control they relinquish by just being a follower and going along with the opinions of others. Critical thinkers base their beliefs, choices, and judgments on evidence, but Kuhn found that most people are unable to cite evidence to back up their reasoning for holding their beliefs. Further, many people refuse to modify or abandon their beliefs, even when they are presented with new reliable information that disproves them.[vii] There is a theory often used in the social sciences to explain how many people come to make choices or decisions called informational cascade.  This theory explains that people often rely on the choices of others to guide their decision-making rather than gathering evidence to make an informed choice. This may be due to lack of time or the inability to find the facts on their own. Decisions are made on observations of the choices of others while ignoring their own personal information. In many cases, it’s easier to go along with the ideas of the crowd.[viii] There are times when following information that others share is perfectly rational. Like following the advice of financial experts and creating an emergency savings account. But often you could follow the wrong information and make irrational choices based on biased or incomplete information such as participating in a ridiculous and dangerous challenge on social media or following an unhealthy fad diet. We have all heard the toothpaste commercials that claim their product is preferred or recommended by eight out of ten dentists. This is a powerful marketing tool that capitalizes on the informational cascade of how people often allow the choices of others or the advice of experts to guide their decision-making. It would be easy to assume that since dentists are experts in their field, their recommendation should carry a lot of weight when we decide which toothpaste to purchase. However, the Advertising Standards Authority banned this slogan from being used by the Colgate toothpaste company in 2007 as it was determined to be a misleading claim and a breach of advertising rules. The company involved conducted a telephone survey of dentists, but they allowed the dentists to recommend more than one brand of toothpaste which resulted in another toothpaste company achieving the same high number of recommendations as Colgate. Just because we are told that nearly all experts agree, there may be much more to the story.[ix] Blindly following the advice of experts or the consensus of a group abdicates our decision-making power to others and often prevents us from making an objective, rational, informed decision based on evidence for ourselves. Applying our critical thinking skills can go a long way toward avoiding misleading information like this.

Rutherford, Albert. Elements of Critical Thinking: A Fundamental Guide to Effective Decision Making, Deep Analysis, Intelligent Reasoning, and Independent Thinking (The critical thinker Book 1) . ARB Publications. Kindle Edition.