Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Excerpt Re: The Role of Cognitive Schemas in Reinforcing Biased Reactions

One might suppose that schemas that repeatedly lead to mistaken conclusions about cause and responsibility would gradually disappear through a process akin to natural selection. Under such a theory, experience would lead people to distinguish over time between "bad" and "good" schemas and abandon use of the former. In fact, cognitive research suggests otherwise. Researchers associate schemas with the cognitive bias known as the conservatism bias. 24 This link implies that schemas are strongly resistant to cognitive change. Indeed, the evidence indicates that as people employ schemas more frequently, they become more resilient to inconsistent evidence. 25 If I have been taught that priests are saintly men who do not indulge in the vices that plague the rest of us sinners, I am not apt to reject or even amend this prior knowledge when I encounter a priest who smokes, drinks alcohol,  [*773]  or tells off-color jokes. Rather, I am likely to regard this individual as a deviant from his role. Labeling him a deviant reinforces the underlying schema.Experimental research indicates that ego-involvement is a principal source of the conservatism bias. 26 The ego, acting as an organizer of knowledge, encodes and manages information in a highly selective fashion that confirms what is already known. The ego acts to preserve itself by protecting the integrity of its existing organization of knowledge. The conservatism bias to which ego-involvement contributes is evident in a wide variety of common social practices, ranging from Americans' resistance to adopting the metric system to refusals to admit errors in one's memory. The effect of this bias is that once the ego has initially encoded and organized the knowledge, it tends to strongly resist change.
Interesting, no?