Shawn at Anecdote discusses how emotion often trumps reason in our thinking. He cites research comparing how party loyalists respond to inconsistent statements by politicians. They’re much more likely to pounce on inconsistencies by opposition speakers. And neuroscientists who had them wired for the experiment got an insight into what went on:
The brains did register the conflict as an unpleasant emotion but for the political partisans they were able to shutdown that distress quickly through faulty reasoning. But here’s the thing. Once the negative emotions turned off the positive emotions turned on. They weren’t just feeling a little better, they were feeling good.
So it seems what we think is often a rationalisation to make us feel more comfortable.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I remember from years ago watching a laborious powerpoint pitch from a famous firm of management consultants. They were doing a change programme for a big company, and the whole theme was “making a compelling case for change”. It was entirely rooted in a mindset of argument.
Among its horrors was a little matrix dividing the organisations employees into three levels of sophistication. For each level, the analogy was made to a national newspaper. Thus top management would be addressed like readers of the Financial Times; mid-levels would get Daily Mail treatment; and the rest were set to be addresssed like Sun readers.
So apart from relying over much on “rational” argument it also nakedly reflected a hierarchical notion of how change would take place. Wrong in so many ways.