Psychology Belief Perseverance
by
Corey L. Guenther, Abigail M. Smith
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0258

Introduction

People’s proclivity to passionately cling to, and advocate for, beliefs or attitudes that exist in the absence of evidentiary support manifests in a range of life domains, including politics, sports, the workplace, social media, and relationships, among others. In fact, this propensity to develop, maintain, and unwaveringly cling to one’s beliefs in the absence of sufficient evidence is one of the most well-established tendencies in the social-psychological canon. It is a tendency that contributes to numerous psychological effects, including those involved in impression formation, comparative bias, attitude persuasion, intergroup perception, and social judgment, to name a few. And just as importantly, this tendency also has significant implications for judgment and decision-making in critical applied domains, including politics, jury deliberation, and medicine. The area of research that most directly illustrates this tendency is that on belief perseverance. Initially documented in the 1960s, belief perseverance refers to the tendency to maintain held beliefs even when the evidence supporting such beliefs is fully invalidated. It is the most extreme manifestation of espousing attitudes or belief systems in the absence of objective support—they are not merely beliefs based on evidence that is difficult to muster or verify, but rather, they are beliefs that persist despite their very evidential foundation being fully discredited as factually false. Since its initial conceptualization, research on belief perseverance has explored various mechanisms underlying the effect, moderating factors that influence the effect’s strength, and applied domains where belief perseverance has direct implications for judgment and decision-making. This bibliography explores the belief perseverance literature and is divided into six sections. General Overviews contains written works that provide a broad overview of the belief perseverance phenomenon. Seminal Demonstrations contains empirical articles considered to be seminal demonstrations of the belief perseverance effect. Explanatory Mechanisms includes studies that highlight key mechanisms driving belief perseverance, while Moderating Factors reviews boundary conditions that exacerbate or limit the strength of belief perseverance effects. Finally, Applied Investigations reviews articles exploring implications of belief perseverance in political, academic, judicial, and entertainment domains, while Related Perspectives discusses research areas closely related to, yet distinct from, belief perseverance in the social psychological literature.

General Overviews

Each work reviewed in this section provides a reasonably comprehensive overview of the belief perseverance phenomenon at a particular time point in the literature’s development. Rapp and Braasch 2014 is a contemporary edited collection of chapters that dissects the many ways people use misinformation and invalid data in their judgments and decisions, while Nisbett and Ross 1980 situates belief perseverance among various other well-documented shortcomings of human inference. Jelalian and Miller 1984 offers a thorough overview of the perseverance literature, including discussion of conceptual explanations for, and boundary conditions to, the phenomenon. Slusher and Anderson 1989 provides an informative review of the belief perseverance literature, while also discussing implications of perseverance for mental health and approaches to therapy. Lewandowsky, et al. 2012 offers an informative review of mechanisms underlying the origin, spread, and perseverance of misinformation, and concludes with recommendations for effectively reducing misinformation effects. Finally, Chan, et al. 2017 provides a contemporary meta-analysis of the perseverance literature and identifies mechanisms most effective for propagating, and mitigating, unwarranted perseverance effects.

  • Chan, M. S., C. R. Jones, K. H. Jamieson, and D. Albarracín. 2017. Debunking: A meta-analysis of the psychological efficacy of messages countering misinformation. Psychological Science 28.11: 1531–1546.

    DOI: 10.1177/0956797617714579E-mail Citation »

    A meta-analysis of the extant literature on effective mechanisms for debunking beliefs propagated by misinformation. Results indicate that, whereas reasoning in line with initial misinformation facilitates unwarranted perseverance, generating counterarguments to misinformation is most effective for reducing misinformation effects—especially when such counterarguments are detailed in nature. The authors note, however, that debunking is not always effective—evidence suggests that some debunking efforts may exacerbate, rather than attenuate, misinformation perseverance.

  • Jelalian, E., and A. G. Miller. 1984. The perseverance of beliefs: Conceptual perspectives and research developments. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2:25–56.

    DOI: 10.1521/jscp.1984.2.1.25E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive overview of the early belief perseverance literature. This article reviews the foundational demonstrations of the effect, offers an in-depth discussion of conceptual explanations for the phenomenon, outlines moderating factors and boundary conditions identified to date, and discusses applied implications for perseverance effects. Discussion of how belief perseverance relates to other, related phenomena is included as well. An excellent introduction to foundational research on belief perseverance.

  • Lewandowsky, S., U. K. H. Ecker, C. M. Seifert, N. Schwarz, and J. Cook. 2012. Misinformation and its correction: Continued influence and successful debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 13.3: 106–131.

    DOI: 10.1177/1529100612451018E-mail Citation »

    A well-written overview, situated in applied contexts, addressing the origin, spread, prevalence, and persistence of misinformation effects on attitudes and behaviors. The authors discuss mechanisms by which misinformation spreads throughout society (e.g., rumors and fiction, politicians, the media), address individual factors that render misinformation resistant to correction, and provide recommendations for debunking and reducing the impact of misinformation. An excellent review highlighting the potential adverse effects of misinformation perseverance in public domains.

  • Nisbett, R., and L. Ross. 1980. Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    E-mail Citation »

    A classic review of early research documenting the multitude of shortcomings—and why they occur—evident in human judgment and decision-making. Discussion of the belief perseverance phenomenon, evidence for the effect, mechanisms underlying the effect, and limits to belief perseverance are explicitly discussed in chapter 8. The perseverance phenomenon’s relation to other impression formation biases is also discussed.

  • Rapp, D. N., and J. L. G. Braasch, eds. 2014. Processing inaccurate information: Theoretical and applied perspectives from cognitive science and the educational sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    An impressive compilation of nineteen chapters that are interdisciplinary in scope, this edited volume provides a broad, contemporary review of research exploring the multitude of ways misinformation inappropriately shapes our attitudes, judgments, and beliefs. Mechanisms by which inaccurate knowledge is acquired, maintained, and subsequently influential during belief formation and social judgment are also discussed.

  • Slusher, M. P., and C. A. Anderson. 1989. Belief perseverance and self-defeating behavior. In Self-defeating behaviors: Experimental research, clinical impressions, and practical implications. Edited by R. C. Curtis, 11–40. New York: Plenum Press.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4613-0783-9_2E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive chapter that discusses the origins of beliefs, a review of the belief perseverance literature and mechanisms underlying perseverance, factors that contribute to belief change, and implications of belief perseverance for problematic behaviors such as depression and loneliness, and the effectiveness of psychological therapy.

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