Belief Perseverance

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 15/11/2020


Belief perseverance is maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it. People with belief perseverance do not need to use information to confirm a belief but they reject any information that could disprove it. Such beliefs may even be strengthened when others attempt to give evidence to the contrary, a phenomenon known as the backfire effect.

Belief perseverance is very widespread and recently we can see it after the United States 2020 presidential election. Those who support President Trump believe there is vote counting fraud despite there is no evidence to support those allegations. Thousands of pro-Trump supporters rallied in Washington to protest against election fraud 10 days after the election, without any substantial evidence of fraud and defying social distancing for Covid-19.

In the case of Covid 19 Pandemic, there are about 53.3 million people affected and 1.3 million deaths worldwide to November 2020. Yet we can see that some people do not believe and continue to see that the contagion is fake or overblown. Many young adults are defying social distancing rule in USA and a group in Kentucky even threw a coronovirus party which helped to spread the virus.

Kelly Brogan, a prominent Covid -19 conspiracy theorist, has a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and studied psychiatry at Cornell University.  She ignored clear evidence of the virus danger in China, Italy…and endorsed pseudoscientific ideas.

Many other examples of belief perseverance:

-      Cult members were convinced that the world would end but after the prediction failed, most believers still clung to their faith.

-      Faith in God, beliefs in different religions.

-      Climate change denials despite many scientific evidence

-      Opposition to vaccination: some people are against vaccination despite proof of the efficacy of vaccination. Small pox was eradicated worldwide. Without vaccination, the children are protected in Australia due to herd immunity but when those children grow and start to travel overseas to Third world countries, they are susceptible to infectious diseases such as poliomyelitis, mumps…

-      Many people do not believe smoking can cause cancer…


Types of Belief perseverance:

There are mainly 3 types: beliefs about ourselves, about others and about other general or social theories.

1-   Beliefs about oneself such as body image, intelligence, abilities, coping skills, musical talent, athletic skills…

Some people may have a distorted body image with an irrational fear of being overweight and then develop eating disorders such as Anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

Some women have problems with self image and resort to cosmetic surgery to have desired looks and wrongly believe that their partners love them more because of the outside appearance. They do not know that the most important deciding factors for happiness in relationships are understanding, being truthful, sharing the same values, companionship, unconditioned love and compassion.

Some people may have negative beliefs about their own abilities and have low self esteem, whereas others may have an over inflated, unfounded beliefs of their own intelligence and abilities.


2-   Beliefs about others such as friends, parents, children, teachers…

Some parents have wrong beliefs that their children are their property or children are an extension of their lives so they expect children to submit to their wishes. In ancient Roman law, the father of the family had full authority over not only his things but his wife and children. In East Asian culture, Confucian ethics regard filial piety as an unconditional obligation of the child. There is also a belief that the most serious way of being a bad son is not to have an heir. The influence continues to this day and cause parent-child conflict. Those parents persevere in their beliefs that the son should carry the name and lineage of the family and disregard about the personal choice of the son or respect the son’s wishes. They ignore the fact that about 40- 50% of marriages end up in divorce while others have to endure unhappy relationships causing stress for the persons involved and their children. They apply their own beliefs from their own old generation to their children’s lives. They themselves may not have happy relationship in their married life but hope that their children will fare better and they ignore all the statistics to the contrary.

A woman who suffers from domestic violence keeps going back to her partner believing him that he still loves her and he is going to change.


3-   Social beliefs: children learn what is expected of them by observation or by being taught by their parents at home, by teachers at school, or at a religious community…They learn about the various roles of people and adopt the beliefs of their community and society.

In India, marriages across caste or religion are uncommon. Most Indian families prefer marriages within their religion and caste. Marriages outside these rigid boundaries have often led to violent consequences including “honour killing”. According to India Human Development survey, only about 5% of Indian marriages are inter-caste. Those couples had to flee their home town and often live in anxiety and fear.


Causes of Belief Perseverance

Why do some people ignore scientific evidence and follow authoritarian figure such as Trump supporters? Often people rely on other people to form an opinion and they especially pay attention to authority figures and the majority opinion from friends, neighbours and community. They tend to pay more attention to the beliefs of those they like over those they dislike.

Most of us like to believe that we are rational and can make the right decisions. The information in this world is far too many and complex especially in this digital age and sometimes we pick and choose a belief that resonates with us and we thought that we knew everything and we do not want to learn something new.

Sometimes people judge themselves negatively because of the past unsuccessful experience and they are unable to change that belief.

Sometimes people had a bad experience with someone and then they start to believe everyone of that ethnic group is bad.


How to overcome Belief Perseverance

It is particularly difficult to overcome belief perseverance as people keep on believing it even in the face of overwhelming evidence and facts. Belief perseverance can cause relationship problems as the person cannot see the other side of the argument and it will cause conflicts in the family. Because of the biased belief, we can make wrong decisions in life. Therefore, it is important to overcome it.

There are some ways to reduce it:

-Firstly, we have to learn about the existence of belief perseverance so we can be aware of our own belief. If we are not aware of it and to question our own belief, there is no possibility of change.

- We have to be open to change and be flexible in our mind to consider all different opinions.

-Do not be influenced by our past experiences especially negative ones so we do not form wrong beliefs based on our past. Always focus at the present and try to see things as objectively as possible.

-Ask for other people’s opinion and have an open discussion about the matter.

- Keep reminding ourselves that our intuition is not always accurate. Consider all the available information before believing on something.

-Practice mindfulness that is be aware of our own mind and the surroundings moment by moment so the information we take in are accurate and not be distorted by our own subjective interpretation. If our gathered information and data are biased, our conclusion would be biased as well.


Belief perseverance sometimes can help us by providing us with the required confidence to go on in life but most of the time it prevents us from making the right decisions so we need to be aware of it and be flexible in our mind.