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Psychology | The weight of evidence


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We make judgements all the time, constantly reviewing the evidence without even knowing that we do it. We judge our environment and do risk assessments and we judge the people we come into contact with. We can’t always trust those judgements because we don’t always have all the evidence. The photograph looks like the English countryside, but in fact it’s an urban area. Beyond those trees is a technology college! Things can be deceiving and people can be deceptive. We measure evidence and look at one side of an issue and compare it to the other side and consider which is more plausible. We can be swayed by a number of factors though.

Imagine you are a judge in a court room. Who are you more likely to believe? The guy in the dock wearing a striped T shirt or the police officer in the witness box in his smart new uniform? We tend to think authoritative figures like the police officer are more reliable. The fact that someone is in the dock, also makes them appear to be guilty.

There is also the weight of historical evidence to consider. We learn from experience and if in our experience we have known some corrupt police officers then we are less likely to believe the police officer in the witness box.

Authoritative sources of evidence in our day to day living include the people we talk to, newspapers, television and now more and more we get information from the internet. We have to learn to recognise what sources of information are reliable and which aren’t. People often feel their friends and family are reliable; but they often aren’t. Just because your parent says it’s so, it doesn’t mean it is. It can be reassuring when a loved one says everything will be alright; but it isn’t always. The same applies if you get criticism from a parent, they aren’t always right but they do tend to be authoritative and so we tend to believe them.

An authoritative source of evidence can also be a newspaper, but is the London Times more reliable than the Sun? They are both owned by News International that has proved unreliable in the past. Is the BBC a reliable source of evidence? Many people think so and believe what they hear on BBC radio and believe what they hear and see on BBC television. Shouldn’t we question it and ask whether what we hear is plausible?

The plausibility of evidence is good guide to reliability but so is checking the evidence by looking at other sources. We can then identify if the evidence supports a commonly held belief and if it doesn’t then we should perhaps be suspicious.

If your parent views you as a failure but all your friends view you as a success, who is right? The commonly held belief appears to be more plausible.

We can also influence the beliefs of others and if we are to be believed and become an authority then we must be reliable and consistent. We must express the same views consistently and it helps to have an authoritative voice supporting our views. People often support their views by adding, “I read it in the newspaper” or “I saw it on television,” This is adding what they feel is authority to their statement. I often ask, which newspaper or which TV channel.

I hope you have found today’s blog interesting, there are more on the Home Page. Please comment and see if you can influence what I believe!

Smile with tongue out

4 responses

  1. Hi, I found your article very interesting. I guess this subject qualifies for a longer debate. It is actually very true that we often just follow the first impression or stereotype beliefs or perception. How to change it, well I guess we all have to me more open minded, listen to various sources of information, and also try to create independent opinions based on our own beliefs. It is not an easy task.

    19, October 2011 at 12:28 pm

    • Hi Kasia,

      Thanks for the comment. I think we have to be more critical and question what we are told. We have to ask what the motivation of the person is, who they work for, what their interest is. Sometimes people say things for their benefit, not ours!

      Thanks again, comments are important.

      19, October 2011 at 12:45 pm

  2. Awesome article, Mike. I know from listening to people, that some of them like to sound “intelligent” by reflecting on something they read or something they heard. And it apparently works as many others listen to them. That’s why I agree with you that it’s important for people, as individuals, to find reliable and qualifying sources before they repeat quotes or opinions if they want to earn the respect of being noteworthy. Thanks for sharing your views.

    19, October 2011 at 12:54 pm

  3. Hi Ronnie,

    Thanks for the comment. I read two articles earlier, one on a Christian site and one on an atheist site with opposing views and they both sounded convincing! I think the awesome way nature works is more interesting, than opinion sometimes.

    19, October 2011 at 1:34 pm

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