What is the name of a common human behavior that makes you believe more in one thing when you are contradicted?

I read an article a while ago about this behavior saying that people naturally (or instinctively) tend to pay more attention to details that are the opposite beliefs of the ones with which he agrees.

A good example for that is a fanatic religious person, that the more you try to convince someone that his beliefs are wrong, the more he gets convinced that you are talking bullshit.

I am pretty sure there is a name for that, does anybody know?

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    I note that Wikipedia has a really, really long list of cognitive biases that you might be interested in (I found it interesting, anyway). Jun 30 '11 at 23:38
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    I think it's a bit of a mistake to assume that a person becomes more fixed in their beliefs the more the those beliefs are contradicted by argument/evidence. What happens is simply that they remain as they are, while the person trying to persuade them otherwise becomes more aware of the futility of arguing. Jul 1 '11 at 0:18
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    @FumbleFingers: people react in lots of different ways to being argued against. What you say accurately describes plenty of cases… but the effect the OP describes does also seems to occur sometimes (at least intuitively — I am not a psychologist).
    – PLL
    Jul 1 '11 at 4:01
  • Yes, I remember reading this in an article lately about a group that, when the world didn't end as predicted, became convinced that they had saved the world through prayer. It was not this recent Rapture story, but in an article connected to it. I'll see if I can find it.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 1 '11 at 13:45
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    You seem to be contradicting yourself. (Re-read your title carefully.) If the more argument/evidence provided, the more stubborn the position becomes, that's confirmation bias. If, on the other hand, you are open to being contradicted, and actually enjoy it, that's called "science".
    – Hot Licks
    May 9 '18 at 12:13

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. Confirmation bias is a variation of the more general tendency of apophenia.


Attitude polarization

Attitude polarization, also known as belief polarization and polarization effect, is a phenomenon in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as the different parties consider evidence on the issue. It is one of the effects of confirmation bias: the tendency of people to search for and interpret evidence selectively, to reinforce their current beliefs or attitudes. When people encounter ambiguous evidence, this bias can potentially result in each of them interpreting it as in support of their existing attitudes, widening rather than narrowing the disagreement between them.



Stubbornness and recalcitrance are commonly used to describe this sort of behaviour.

Other words include obstinate, unyielding, intransigent, intractable, mulish, pigheaded.

Personally I quite like refractory, but its use in this sense is uncommon, so I don't think it's necessarily a good answer here.

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    Mulishness is good! Other than @pageman’s reactance which is excellent but probably won’t be widely understood, mulish seems to me to best capture the contrarianism of not just resisting argument, but digging in even further as a result.
    – PLL
    Jul 1 '11 at 4:05

if you're looking for ONE WORD - try reactance:

Reactance is an emotional reaction in direct contradiction to rules or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms.

Reactance can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion. People using reverse psychology are playing on at least an informal awareness of reactance, attempting to influence someone to choose the opposite of what they request.

  • This would be the best word...except I've never heard of it before and sounds like a technical neologism.
    – Mitch
    Jul 1 '11 at 14:09
  • I agree it's a bit of a technical neologism. Another problem is that thus far it's not a 'productive' term, and I suspect it never will be. You can't really use it to generate the obviously useful word reactant to describe [someone exhibiting] this type of behaviour. That word already exists, and isn't likely to be available for this context as well as its existing meaning. Jul 1 '11 at 20:52
  • @Mitch @Fumble the Huffington Post uses it ;) huffingtonpost.com/valerie-tarico/… “If you've been wounded by Christianity or feel like our world is being wounded, it is easy to be bitter or reactive and to pass that reactance on to any children who look up to you.” Jul 3 '11 at 9:45
  • @pageman: ...ok... I'm feeling a bit 'reactant'. That's obviously an example that could be interpreted as "increas[ing] resistance to persuasion", but it just doesn't feel that way. Maybe 'reactant' works fine there but without the so specific meaning desired by the OP.
    – Mitch
    Jul 3 '11 at 14:25

Suppose I have a long-held and dear belief that thousands of years ago humanity was deposited on this earth by aliens.

Suppose I raised my children with this belief, and that my only friends are those who hold this belief and no other.

Now suppose a scientist discovers evidence that humanity did not emerge from an alien laboratory but was in fact created by a supernatural being.

That discovery is going to make me unhappy. I built a life around my beliefs, and contrary evidence is going to undermine that life, and my happiness along with it.

Being an assertive sort of chap, I go on the offensive. I'm not a (creation) scientist so I can't dispute the evidence on its merits. Instead, I go for the scientists credibility and speak out with hostility about the scientists personal life. I spread gossip and rumour about the scientist. I organise angry rallies, and I raise funds to have the scientist's work put under negative scrutiny.

In this way I resolve the dissonance and my happy life resumes.

Depending on my circumstances and personality I might have chosen other ways to resolve the dissonance. I might even have adapted my belief somewhat, changing my position just enough to accommodate the evidence.

Or I might simply have called it bullshit and walked away.

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    Yep, I'm talking about cognitive dissonance
    – Ed Guiness
    Feb 15 '12 at 16:43

I'd have to say that's reverse psychology

reverse psychology - The principle or practice of encouraging a behavior by counter-intuitive means, such as advocating its opposite.

But that's two words and you wanted a single word to mean that so I guess that doesn't work.

How about saying 'their intent or argument backfires' or that 'their argument undermines their goal'?

  • Wait you want a behavior so verbs don't work either, hmmm... have to think on that a bit.
    – Sk Johnson
    Oct 25 '15 at 8:02
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    Reverse psychology is a manipulative technique which exploits the phenomenon mentioned in the question. It is not the phenomenon itself. May 9 '18 at 8:44

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