dogmatism (noun) – the tendency to lay down principles are incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others
I know some very strong-willed people that I adore. Folks that others might call stubborn because they perceive them to not back down easily when in conflict with someone else. But that’s the funny thing. I’ve had a different experience with these same people. Yes, they take strong positions. But they do their homework. Are good critical thinkers. And if they’re presented opposing evidence (particularly credible evidence), they will modify their position.
They don’t strike me as stubborn. And they certainly don’t strike me as dogmatic.
Oh — don’t get me wrong. I’ve known some dogmatic people in my time. They believe things without much evidence (certainly never credible evidence) because “it’s the way things are.” Or because it’s what they want to believe, what they find comforting. Or what matches their emotions, confusing feelings with fact.
And they are stubborn. And annoying. Because they’re closed off to any input, regardless of what it is. They just assume they’re right, pretty much all the time, even when they aren’t, even when they’re missing something important.
These folks are very dogmatic.
So what’s the problem with being dogmatic? Is there a downside?
Yes, it turns out. Besides being annoying to other people, research has found a negative correlation between dogmatism and happiness. Or in other words, dogmatic individuals are less happy.
Dogmatic People Are Less Likely to Seek Out New Info When Things Are Unclear
Okay, so why are dogmatic people that way? It clearly sucks for them — and it sucks for everyone else.
But there must be some kind of adaptive reason for this, right?
A new study looked into the relationship between dogmatism and how information can guide decision-making in the face of uncertainty. The study found that dogmatic people are sadly less likely to seek out new information in this scenario in order to further refine or modify vague beliefs or ones that were founded on little information.
They don’t respond to cues of feelings of uncertainty by seeking out information that could help clarify it.
This seems to be the stage where the self-information process falls apart, in other words. Where a non-dogmatic person would feel uncertain and look for information that would help them develop some clarity, a dogmatic person does not respond to their own uncertainty that way.
Sadly, the current study doesn’t go into the particulars of exactly why they do not do this, but I am looking forward to more research in this area — that drills down into those dynamics.
In any event, it was interesting to see a study that tries to empirically look into why some individuals seem to be more prone to confirmation bias than others (even if there’s a lot more work to be done in the area).
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.