Everyone has their own opinion. It doesn’t matter if it’s about a subject we know little about; if it’s something we can argue, we’ll do it. With the spread of web 2.0, people have been spouting opinions through Youtube, blogs, Facebook and Twitter more now than ever before in history.
And most people would consider that a good thing. After all, we’ve been conditioned through school to voice our opinions through essays and discussion. It’s just a natural transition to want to speak out. However, despite what we’d all like to think, most people’s opinions don’t really matter.
Why Most People’s Opinions Don’t Matter
I’m not saying that no one has the right to voice opinions. That would be terrible and violate the foundation of one of our basic freedoms. However, I do think many people should voluntarily withhold their opinion unless they know some of the ways bad opinions are formed and how they can form good ones of their own.
There are actually several pitfalls people don’t seem to notice when they start forming their opinions. Falling into any of these can seriously undermine how good your opinion is.
You can only form good opinions on the things you know well. I know it seems basic, but the number of people who freely give their opinions on subjects they know little about amazes me. This is especially true about news events and politics.
It might seem harmless for some ill-informed people to voice their opinions here and there about government. But ignorant opinions can cause problems. For example, how much does the United States spend in foreign aid as a percent of GDP? In a recent survey, the majority of people said around 20-25%. The true number is around 1%. This matters since 6 in 10 Americans want to cut foreign aid since they think it is too high. In a time when the country is thinking about cutting its budget, public focus on an inconsequential area is just hindering their work.
Biases are tricks your mind plays to skew your opinion one way or another without you even realizing it. It can affect how you take in information as well as your judgment and interpretation.
The most common form of this is confirmation bias. This is when people have preconceptions about a subject and search for information that backs it up while dismissing or ignoring anything that doesn’t. In this situation, people seek out information to support their belief, not to find out if their belief is true.
There are hundreds of biases though. These can range from stereotyping to the bandwagon effect, when someone goes along with a popular opinion simply because it is popular. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to completely eliminate biases. Just be aware of your opinions and weigh all the information you get equally.
3. People Don’t Want to admit when they’re wrong
Sometimes plain stubbornness keeps people from forming good opinions. Many people don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. It either makes them feel stupid or damages their self-esteem.
When you confront someone about something they’ve said and explain to them why they’re wrong, they might discount it by saying it is a matter of opinion. In some cases this is true since there is often room for interpretation.
However, if you have solid evidence and can even back it up with research studies, they might still be resistant. The person is just trying to protect their ego. In many cases they’ll adjust their opinion if the evidence is compelling enough. In other instances, their opinion is so firmly attached to their identity that no evidence is compelling enough for them to change their minds.
4. Emotions confuse opinions
People are emotional creatures. I think this is a wonderful thing since emotions bring us joy, love, surprise and anticipation. However, emotions can have an adverse effect on opinion-making. And despite what many people think, most opinions come from emotions not logic.
Because a large majority of opinions come from emotion, there is plenty of room for error. Advertisers have known this for years. Commercials target emotions to get you to buy their product, not explain why you should.
It’s only after you buy that you try to logically justify the purchase. Emotions affect our opinions much more than we realize. It’s like one saying goes, “the only people who think rationally 100% of the time are economists and psychopaths”.
5. Ignoring experts
Experts are by definition someone well-studied in their area of expertise. If you find someone who has a PhD in zoology, you can probably assume they know what they’re talking about when it comes to animals. However, experts are often ignored.
You can see this happening in celebrity endorsements. Just because a famous football or basketball star tells you to buy a diet pill should not influence your decision. It’s more logical to get an endorsement from an expert dietitian. But since our opinion on the product is influenced more by a star than a dietitian, that’s what the advertisers go with.
This can lead to some serious problems. Jenny McCarthy used her relative star power as a former Playboy bunny and actor to advocate how vaccines can cause autism. Because of her efforts, some parents have started to avoid vaccines for their children entirely.
However, she ignores the fact that almost every single scientist disputes her claim. And the major article she bases her claim on was later discredited because the author had fraudulently manipulated evidence and was eventually barred from practicing medicine entirely.
6. The world isn’t black and white
Either you’re a leader or a follower, with us or against us, part of the solution or part of the problem. Black and white thinking is often put into terms of either/or. There are only two sides to any discussion and you have to pick one of them.
The underlying problem with this line of thinking is that rarely are there only two sides to anything. The world is not black and white, but many shades of grey. This is difficult for some people to recognize though since people don’t want to take the time to actually consider and debate things. People want to form opinions quickly and easily. By having only two options to choose from, it saves people time when forming opinions.
How do you form good opinions? Any other ways you’ve noticed how people make bad opinions?
photo credit: zenobia_joy