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The Neuroscience Behind Why People Can’t Agree on “Facts”

Understanding the brain and how it works is a key component of our Student & ADHD Coach Training programs. Neuroscience is a fascinating topic that sheds light on the biological basis for actions that we take. I came across a fascinating article in Time that addresses the neuroscience behind why people can’t agree on basic facts. Have you ever been baffled by an acquaintance accepting a statement as “fact” that seems obviously untrue to you?

The brain gets a kick out of information which makes the digital age a never-ending brain playground.  Every day we produce approximately 2.5 billion gigabytes of data and perform 4 billion Google searches. With all that information at our fingertips, it should be easy to determine what is fact and what is fiction.

Turns out it is not that simple. As humans, we view information through unique filters that are a compilation of our life experiences. Someone can share facts and figures to support their viewpoint but what determines whether we will be persuaded by their argument or ignore them?

There was a series of studies done that point to the conclusion that in order to assess data and decide what is true the brain relies heavily on its emotional system. In one study, participant’s brain waves were recorded while they were given misinformation. A week later, the participants were told that the information was randomly generated. Almost half of the participants rejected to shift their beliefs based on the new information provided and continued believing the disproven “facts”.

Researchers point to the amygdala as key to predicting whether false beliefs would be resistant to change. The amygdala is a small structure in the brain that is important for producing emotional arousal. If the amygdala was activated when people were first exposed to misinformation, it was less likely they would be able to correct their judgments later. Dr. Russell Barkley has studied the amygdala and emphasizes how ADHD inhibits the ability to regulate emotions and our subsequent decision-making process.

Interestingly, according to the article, researchers observed that one of the most emotionally arousing activity people engage in on most days is tweeting. Turns out any social media platform that uses short and fast messages, like Twitter, raises your pulse and enlarges your pupils — indicators of emotional arousal. Twitter is perfectly designed to engage our emotions because its features naturally call on our affective system; messages are fast, short and transferred within a social context. You don’t have the room to include actual backup data to your statements if you have it.

What this means is that information on Twitter is particularly likely to be evaluated based on emotional responses with little input from higher cognitive functions. It is good practice to slow down when using such platforms and to consciously reflect on our reactions. Waiting just a few minutes before making judgments reduces the likelihood that they will be based solely on instinct.

Understanding the brain and how it works is a key component of our Student & ADHD Coach Training programs.  Are you ready to learn more about the brain and master the skills to coach students? Join us!