17

votes

How do you avoid The Backfire Effect?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 13, 2011 at 6:26 PM

This is a great article about what can happen when you get it wrong.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper. ...
As information technology progresses, the behaviors you are most likely to engage in when it comes to belief, dogma, politics and ideology seem to remain fixed. In a world blossoming with new knowledge, burgeoning with scientific insights into every element of the human experience, like most people, you still pick and choose what to accept even when it comes out of a lab and is based on 100 years of research.

Being aware of cognitive biases seems important to me as a PaleoHacker because I need to stay properly skeptical of what I am doing to keep my choices evidence rather then habit and bias based.

What do you do to make sure you don't have the backfire effect when you see new nutritional studies?

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 17, 2012
at 09:13 PM

Here is a tangentially related thread: http://paleohacks.com/questions/111837/does-being-paleo-come-down-to-faith

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:17 PM

What an interesting example! I wasn't thinking of it quite as much 'in the now' as you are, but it's certainly quite valid. Thank you for YOUR thought provoking comment!

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:15 PM

I think this 'is it a narrative (borrowing Thomas' excellent word) or is it just a diet?' discussion sometimes misses the point that it's BOTH. Forgive the overdone analogy, but you can miss the forest for the trees, or miss the trees for the forest, but neither can belie the fact that there are both trees AND forests. It's a matter of where the attention is and which is more useful at what time, not which is "right".

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:13 PM

I think this 'is it a narrative (to borrow Thomas' excellent word) or is it a diet? discussion sometimes misses the point that it's BOTH. Forgive the overdone analogy, but you can miss the forest for the trees, or miss the trees for the forest, but neither can belie the fact that there are both trees AND forests. It's a matter of where the attention is.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:07 PM

It's a tricky thing. I'm sure vegans think they are doing the same thing, reading *their* vegan blogs (VeganHacks?) and sharing recipes and ideas, and when they read about Paleo they go back to *their* authors for refuting facts. Granted, they don't really *have* the evidence, but that never stopped anyone from sticking to their own bias which makes their own evidence seem compelling. Not a critique of your point, queen - I agree with you - just underscoring why it's such a tricky issue.

0e395acc856e3353f3f5892e6b09b0e7

(1227)

on June 14, 2011
at 12:58 PM

Very subtle that "pause" you mention. I spent a whole year of being mindful of pausing physical thresholds when I would would move from one room to another. I used to trip a lot when crossing thresholds. Now it is more a mental pause before crossing psychic thresholds. Thank you for your thought provoking answer.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25477)

on June 14, 2011
at 03:30 AM

Dr Harris's Paleo an My paleo an Thomas Paleo are on the same continuum.....but they are not congruent but they are connected. That connection still binds us in the face of our incongruent beliefs about what really is paleo. My quilt will expose my beliefs and KH blog does his. Thomas post here do as well. I find his honesty is located between his wit and brilliance. And it is not lost on me. He adds to this community.

C074eec3b3c0325ef3018a128111823a

(1012)

on June 14, 2011
at 12:54 AM

Absolutely. What you eat (or don't eat) is a critical and early first step, but only a small part overall. Necessary but not sufficient condition for health. Observing and understanding and modifying for your own response and needs, and for new knowledge, comes next and continues forever..

C074eec3b3c0325ef3018a128111823a

(1012)

on June 14, 2011
at 12:36 AM

Yeah, great question.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:29 PM

Not too far off, Cave Rat. We now have cute little pre-packaged "paleo snacks" with ads in our very own Paleo magazine. Thomas, it would appear you haven't gleaned much but a bunch of data you cannot assimilate....to put it in your language.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:23 PM

No, your attitude towards change isn't always for the better. Change is the only constant in an ever-changing Universe. To change WITH change is the way to be changeless.

2f54dbe892ec89b12d1db686568e885a

(919)

on June 13, 2011
at 10:50 PM

change isn't always for the better

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:37 PM

I think you can tell when Paleo is dead, when you can buy little lapel pins of 'Grok' so you can recognize each other, but don't know any of the background or science beyond a few sound bites - when 'we' start using codewords like 'muggle' or 'DN' (for Damn Neolith) to describe 'them'. And when can buy Paleo fashion accessories at Target.

66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:32 PM

That is the problem diet by definition is destined to failure. This is about so much more than just eating proper foods, beyond the self imposed shackles of the conscious mind. Serial dieters continue looking for what each human is born with but the vast majority of us are blind to. "When you seek you shall not find it". The irony is this ultimate goal plainly visible but humans being the way they are continue to believe that the simplest truths are not worthy unless viewed through complex, self doubting, twisted ideologies.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:26 PM

L. Peltier. You are right. It is JUST a diet to me. JUST ANOTHER DIET. I will glean from it what seems to be of benefit and throw the rest away.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:20 PM

Paleo hasn't lived up to its promise for you BECAUSE it is merely a diet to you AND I haven't ate dairy or fruit in years. In fact, I just recently added sweet potatoes back in just as an experiment PWO. Quite frankly, I got better results out of gluconeogenesis. Still tinkering however.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:14 PM

Well, you are right about the corporatism. We already see people who are "invested" in the Paleo movement. What I hope will happen at the Ancestral Symposium (and I may be wrong about this) is that there will be a debate between the "faithful" and the (honest) skeptics. I could be wrong about my prediction. The Ancestral Symposium could turn into Lourdes.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:52 PM

Ahhh I love that you quoted Hegel! I may agree about the symposium coffin nail. I'm all for meetups but a damn conference? I smell corporatism coming to a paleo diet near you :)

2f54dbe892ec89b12d1db686568e885a

(919)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:50 PM

By change, are you suggesting that a Paleo diet is to be relegated to the suboptimal - if so it will be most interesting to learn from the Dr's. Kruse and Harrris amongst others, as to the new 'optimal' diet which is to replace it.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:38 PM

Looking into my crystal ball here. Ironically, I think the upcoming Ancestral Symposium *MAY* be the first nail in Paleolithic Diet coffin.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:24 PM

Baconbitch, yes and make no mistake about it. The Paleo diet has helped a lot of people. I am going to get all hegelian on you now. Paleo has helped, but at some point it can become a handicap (turn into its opposite), if the concept keeps us from going to some higher stage. In this regard, it might be helpful to look at the history of alternative diets. Maybe I will post on this another day.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:13 PM

Very good. But let me add that eliminating the grains AND processed food. I really like your answer and feel similarly. I don't think what I'm doing is really paleo but clean eating for optimal energy and mind. Not just that, so many people cannot (financially or geographically) adhere to a strict paleo-ish diet. Hi-five, yo!

101b3a5c96d313d22262f65bdff20acf

(539)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:32 PM

+1 - great question - I simply edited the spelling in the 'cognitive-bias' tag.

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8 Answers

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9
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:06 PM

It's probably what I do before I encounter such information that prepares me for it. My long history of experimenting with diets provides me with skepticism. All diets make big promises (not the diets, of course, but the promoters of such diets). So far, none of them, including Paleo, has lived up to its promise. In other words, a lot of diets have something good but also a lot to be discarded.

Here, I will quote you, "as a PaleoHacker". That's another problem that needs to be avoided, "identifying with a community by name". I am not picking on you. Obviously I am a Paleohacker, too. However, the moment you start saying "I am this or that", those tribal instincts kick in.

I find it important to approach all of these diets with a sense of humor. It's kind of funny to see the religious attachment people have to these diets. It NEVER fails to make me scream with laughter.

The good news is that the Paleo diet is evolving. In fact, I am predicting that it is about to undergo it's biggest evolution yet....it will cease to exist! People talk about Paleolithic version. Ha! People start off on the Paleo basics, but then find they have to add dairy, carbs, starches, fruits etc. Paleo has become almost meaningless. About the only thing that we can all agree on is that glutinous grains should not be eaten often. When I say that it is about to cease to exist I say that with the highest admiration for the people around Paleo. They have been open to change. Oh, there may still be people calling themselves Paleo 10 years from now. The whole Paleo Caveman imagery is just too irresistible to those who love facile imagery and cliches. However, it is definitely going the way of Macrobiotics or some other weird crap that seemed like the wave of the future 30 years ago. However, those clinging to the identity will be left behind in the dust.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:26 PM

L. Peltier. You are right. It is JUST a diet to me. JUST ANOTHER DIET. I will glean from it what seems to be of benefit and throw the rest away.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:20 PM

Paleo hasn't lived up to its promise for you BECAUSE it is merely a diet to you AND I haven't ate dairy or fruit in years. In fact, I just recently added sweet potatoes back in just as an experiment PWO. Quite frankly, I got better results out of gluconeogenesis. Still tinkering however.

2f54dbe892ec89b12d1db686568e885a

(919)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:50 PM

By change, are you suggesting that a Paleo diet is to be relegated to the suboptimal - if so it will be most interesting to learn from the Dr's. Kruse and Harrris amongst others, as to the new 'optimal' diet which is to replace it.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:24 PM

Baconbitch, yes and make no mistake about it. The Paleo diet has helped a lot of people. I am going to get all hegelian on you now. Paleo has helped, but at some point it can become a handicap (turn into its opposite), if the concept keeps us from going to some higher stage. In this regard, it might be helpful to look at the history of alternative diets. Maybe I will post on this another day.

66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:32 PM

That is the problem diet by definition is destined to failure. This is about so much more than just eating proper foods, beyond the self imposed shackles of the conscious mind. Serial dieters continue looking for what each human is born with but the vast majority of us are blind to. "When you seek you shall not find it". The irony is this ultimate goal plainly visible but humans being the way they are continue to believe that the simplest truths are not worthy unless viewed through complex, self doubting, twisted ideologies.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:14 PM

Well, you are right about the corporatism. We already see people who are "invested" in the Paleo movement. What I hope will happen at the Ancestral Symposium (and I may be wrong about this) is that there will be a debate between the "faithful" and the (honest) skeptics. I could be wrong about my prediction. The Ancestral Symposium could turn into Lourdes.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:38 PM

Looking into my crystal ball here. Ironically, I think the upcoming Ancestral Symposium *MAY* be the first nail in Paleolithic Diet coffin.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 13, 2011
at 09:37 PM

I think you can tell when Paleo is dead, when you can buy little lapel pins of 'Grok' so you can recognize each other, but don't know any of the background or science beyond a few sound bites - when 'we' start using codewords like 'muggle' or 'DN' (for Damn Neolith) to describe 'them'. And when can buy Paleo fashion accessories at Target.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:13 PM

Very good. But let me add that eliminating the grains AND processed food. I really like your answer and feel similarly. I don't think what I'm doing is really paleo but clean eating for optimal energy and mind. Not just that, so many people cannot (financially or geographically) adhere to a strict paleo-ish diet. Hi-five, yo!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:29 PM

Not too far off, Cave Rat. We now have cute little pre-packaged "paleo snacks" with ads in our very own Paleo magazine. Thomas, it would appear you haven't gleaned much but a bunch of data you cannot assimilate....to put it in your language.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 07:52 PM

Ahhh I love that you quoted Hegel! I may agree about the symposium coffin nail. I'm all for meetups but a damn conference? I smell corporatism coming to a paleo diet near you :)

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25477)

on June 14, 2011
at 03:30 AM

Dr Harris's Paleo an My paleo an Thomas Paleo are on the same continuum.....but they are not congruent but they are connected. That connection still binds us in the face of our incongruent beliefs about what really is paleo. My quilt will expose my beliefs and KH blog does his. Thomas post here do as well. I find his honesty is located between his wit and brilliance. And it is not lost on me. He adds to this community.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:15 PM

I think this 'is it a narrative (borrowing Thomas' excellent word) or is it just a diet?' discussion sometimes misses the point that it's BOTH. Forgive the overdone analogy, but you can miss the forest for the trees, or miss the trees for the forest, but neither can belie the fact that there are both trees AND forests. It's a matter of where the attention is and which is more useful at what time, not which is "right".

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:13 PM

I think this 'is it a narrative (to borrow Thomas' excellent word) or is it a diet? discussion sometimes misses the point that it's BOTH. Forgive the overdone analogy, but you can miss the forest for the trees, or miss the trees for the forest, but neither can belie the fact that there are both trees AND forests. It's a matter of where the attention is.

5
Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 13, 2011
at 06:48 PM

Nice Question. I most notice this in my own thinking about carbs. Last year I was absolutely in the 'low fat' mindset. After reading Good Calories Bad Calories it was like a nearly instant U-Turn complete with squealing tires and smoking brakes. I felt like "Mr. Danger" at my first spoonful of butter. It was a shocking shift because it was so fast and so complete!

But now sometimes I wonder if I now have a 'bias' to preserve my 'high fat low carb' mindset.

It makes sense: we can't reinvent the wheel for every position we hold. Instead we reach an internal agreement/consensus, then just let it coast on autopilot, resisting new/contradictory info until it's overwhelming. So the problem isn't having a bias, it's the degree to which we resist that new info. The classic paradigm shift, I suppose.

The most useful thing for me is to simply remember the feeling of a shift from one position to another, to remember with even a little bit of amusement how I felt and thought before GCBD and how it is now.. If info comes in that claims 'fat is bad!!!' and actually has some data about it I pause and look at it a sec. My prejudice predisposes me to dismissing it quickly, but at least there's that little pause where I'm open to compelling info...

0e395acc856e3353f3f5892e6b09b0e7

(1227)

on June 14, 2011
at 12:58 PM

Very subtle that "pause" you mention. I spent a whole year of being mindful of pausing physical thresholds when I would would move from one room to another. I used to trip a lot when crossing thresholds. Now it is more a mental pause before crossing psychic thresholds. Thank you for your thought provoking answer.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:17 PM

What an interesting example! I wasn't thinking of it quite as much 'in the now' as you are, but it's certainly quite valid. Thank you for YOUR thought provoking comment!

2
C61399790c6531a0af344ab0c40048f1

on June 13, 2011
at 07:02 PM

I keep reading. Every thing I read is a little bit different and reminds me that we don't know the answers and probably never will. But little by little things become clearer. Dogma is dangerous. The evidence that the dietary advice for the past 30 years is wrong is all around us. But the fine detail of new advice/theories is being worked out a little at a time. If only we could trust our instincts - but unfortunately we have lost that capacity. I've been reading Michael Pollan and Food Inc which all made perfect sense - but then I read the Rational Optimist and realised that even the 'obvious' isn't always the whole answer. I'm about to start reading "Just Food" which apparently explains 'where locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly'. I'm fairly sure I'll come across some points which seem reasonable and yet more examples of someone who has swallowed the fat is bad and we should eat less meat argument wholesale. When I'm reading every time I come across an argument I don't agree with I think 'Can I refute this argument?' and see if I can go to Gary Taubes, Loren Cordain, etc and find the evidence. Being aware of the opposing argument keeps you on your toes and if anyone can prove me wrong then I'll change my mind - simple as that.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 14, 2011
at 05:07 PM

It's a tricky thing. I'm sure vegans think they are doing the same thing, reading *their* vegan blogs (VeganHacks?) and sharing recipes and ideas, and when they read about Paleo they go back to *their* authors for refuting facts. Granted, they don't really *have* the evidence, but that never stopped anyone from sticking to their own bias which makes their own evidence seem compelling. Not a critique of your point, queen - I agree with you - just underscoring why it's such a tricky issue.

1
Medium avatar

(19469)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:30 PM

"Have an open mind but not so open that your brain falls out." -?

My mental framework is constantly undergoing changes and I am perpetually experimenting with my own body/lifestyle to see if the information translates into the experience.

I do think that having read most of the "paleo" books, GCGC, and now working through Guns, Germs, and Steel I have more vigorous "base" of not knowledge necessarily, but awareness.

There are always individuals who become fanatical when a though, belief, or even person seems to answer a deep unsatisfied need. Whether it is connection, attention, love, fear etc. we have reasons for why we might hold on to or let go of an idea.

The thing that I come back to regarding "Paleo" is that we (the human race) have not always been sick, fat, and stressed. There were peoples who "got it". I want to know what they did and how I can recreate the effects of their causes.

Whether it is a hunter gatherer tribe that remains intact today or one from 10,000 years ago, looking to the past to inform the present and to create a better future seems reasonable to me.

1
2f931662684a7747be36255c8b486228

(1049)

on June 13, 2011
at 10:57 PM

My way: Every now and then I click on a web site I stumbled over about 20 months ago.. before Paleo. It made me laugh, was fanatic, outrageous, incredible and spoke about how fat is wonderful, exercise never made anybody slim, etc etc........ It amused me soo much, but of course I did not believe a thing. I read it in fact just the other day. I love it. It makes me laugh. Why? Because it is so darn straight forward with no regard for non-believers that it does not even try to overly convince you of anything. But it does not hold back either. I am now analyzing this concept. It's very effective. The web site lo and behold is a religious organization. Wew...aren't they good at what they do. They just move right on ahead skip those who want to be skipped without losing any breath and scoop up those who are ready to be scooped. For me it is a stark reminder: that I can completely ignore valid information with bibliographies and references to studies just because the tone of the text does not suit me. And where did I learn that the tone has to have a certain grayness to it and no passion. Because that is how most scientific reports, doctors, school teachers and authority figures present themselves. Another backward aspect of our world. Laughter should be moving people not stagnating them!! OOps, not to ruffle anybodies feathers, but this site lends an air of reliability, credibility. No time for joking around..........but... learning should be fun not only in childhood (such as with hunter-gatherer societies) but in adulthood as well. (I think I'll go now and make my blog more fun)

1
Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25477)

on June 13, 2011
at 10:56 PM

When you test yourself consistently quarter by quarter you are sharpening your observational skills as a patient and you can help you doctor keep you healthy as well in this fashion. Just eating paleo often does not cut it.

C074eec3b3c0325ef3018a128111823a

(1012)

on June 14, 2011
at 12:54 AM

Absolutely. What you eat (or don't eat) is a critical and early first step, but only a small part overall. Necessary but not sufficient condition for health. Observing and understanding and modifying for your own response and needs, and for new knowledge, comes next and continues forever..

1
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:29 PM

Ya gotta ride the "Wave Of Change"....or get crushed beneath it.

2f54dbe892ec89b12d1db686568e885a

(919)

on June 13, 2011
at 10:50 PM

change isn't always for the better

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 13, 2011
at 11:23 PM

No, your attitude towards change isn't always for the better. Change is the only constant in an ever-changing Universe. To change WITH change is the way to be changeless.

1
792634a784ec6a636c3137d0903e11b4

(1196)

on June 13, 2011
at 08:02 PM

The process you describe is exactly the process that is used when people develop a mental illness that includes delusions. For example something truly horrifying happens to a small child and that child develops a logical belief that the world isn't safe. Over the years behaviours and further beliefs will layer over that initial belief - all designed to make the person behave in ways that are consistent with that original belief (like 'you must NEVER go to new places or you'll DIE', or 'people are stealing my thoughts, so don't interact with ANYONE'). These are self protective mechanisms gone to the extreme, but are still valid. Any attempts to convince or force delusional people to release their delusions will panic them and either another belief will layer over the top for more protection, or the 'fight or flight' response will cause them to withdraw or attack to preserve their safety.

I reckon our attachment to fantastic or dogmatic lifestyle approaches is the same process, just (hopefully) not so dramatic in terms of quality of life. (Seriously, no-poo?? That's a delusion if I ever saw one). In the end, the only healthy response to the question posed is to keep a sense of humour and pay attention to how each new study or programme or set of 'rules to live by' relates to my life today. Does it make me feel good/energetic/healthy/happy? That's why my answer to the Quilt yesterday was that I don't know that I'm Paleo - but eliminating those toxins feels good, and increasing my protein feels good too. For now.

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