Imagine two coffee tasters, Chase and Sanborn. Every morning they drink the same coffee at the same coffee house. One morning while drinking their coffee they both decide that they no longer like it. Although the coffee they taste has not changed, the pleasure they get from it has ceased to be. Chase says “My tastes have changed. I’ve become a more sophisticated coffee drinker. I no longer like that taste at all.” Sanborn rationalises “But my tastes haven’t changed; my... tasters have changed... I think something has gone wrong with my taste buds...”.
Contrary to what we might think, when presented with facts that run counter to what we currently believe we have a tendency of hardening, not softening, our currently held beliefs. This tendency is called the backfire effect and was discovered by researchers investigating how memory and knowledge are updated after correcting information has been received. The backfire effect works in several ways. Firstly there is the familiarity effect, the more someone is familiar with a claim the more likely they are to accept it as true.
"I had also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer" (Charles Darwin).
Take a moment, find a comfortable chair and sit down for a while. Take a deep breath and guide your attention towards your internal thoughts and perceptions. What is it you experience? Perhaps a particular sensation, an itch on your nose or a feeling of fullness in your stomach, maybe a meandering thought comes and goes or feelings of moderate contentedness or annoyance. Now, I want you to turn your attention further in and try to observe the ‘I’, the ‘me’ or the ‘self’ that is having all these experiences.