SciTech

New research finds that people create their own realities

Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor

A study by Carnegie Mellon researchers has shown what many presumed: we forge our own realities. George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology, Russel Golman, assistant professor of social and decision sciences, and David Hagmann, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, published their work in the Journal of Economic Literature. The study showed that people avoid information that disagrees with their world view, but accept information that supports it.

People even interpret contradictory information in ways that support their views. For example, many considered the U.S. Congress’ acquittal of Hillary Clinton for a use of a private email server as evidence that Congress is corrupt.

Information avoidance can be detrimental. It can manifest as a reason why people do not go for medical screenings, why they reject scientific information, or why they accept unfounded facts. The inability to address contradicting views leads to poor decision-making, which is why economists are interested in researching it. Loewenstein elaborated, saying, “People often avoid information that could help them to make better decisions if they think the information might be painful to receive.”

The study suggests that people create their own realities to live the way they wish. “Those who do not take a genetic test can enjoy their life until their illness can’t be ignored, an inflated sense of our own abilities can help us to pursue big and worthwhile goals, and not looking at our financial investments when markets are down may keep us from selling in a panic,” said Golman on people’s motivations.

Advertisers take advantage of this by making people think they are happy, especially as a result of a specific product. Two of the most infamous examples of information denial in science are the rejection of climate change and the acceptance of a relationship between vaccines and autism. While the former has been confirmed time and time again, the latter has been completely disproved; yet, people choose to ignore scientific fact in favor of their own beliefs.

This affects not only them, but the health and security of future generations and people in their communities. Creating warped realities may be an inherently human trait, which would have wide implications. We may do it to avoid stress.

A possible solution to information avoidance trend is less clear. It is up to individuals to challenge their beliefs, an action that exercises a lazy mind and is regular among the best decision makers.