You Can Be Tricked Into Disagreeing With Yourself

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Do you agree with everything you said yesterday? For that matter, would you agree with everything you said an hour ago? These are the odd questions at the heart of a new study published last month in the journal Cognitive Science, which found that it is surprisingly easy to trick people into disagreeing with themselves. 

As the Discover blog Neuroskeptic reported recently, researchers from Sweden and Switzerland first asked people to solve a series of logic puzzles; they were also told to include an explanation of their answers. Later, the experimenters told the participants they’d be viewing answers given by other people in the study, which they were to review and evaluate. But, oh, those sneaky scientists: They slipped in some of the study volunteers’ own answers, and their results showed that nearly 60 percent of the participants fell for it, marking their own answers as being not very well reasoned. 

This is something the researchers call the “selective laziness of reasoning,” the idea that most people judge arguments posed by others more harshly than they judge their own. In a best-case scenario, it can save people from falling for scams or weakly reasoned arguments. From this perspective, the study authors write, this tendency “might not be a flaw but an adaptive feature of reasoning.”

On the other hand, the Discover writer points out that these results could be suggesting that the study participants here simply weren’t paying much attention to the experiments they were participating in. Selective laziness takes many forms.