The Backfire Effect

The contents of this article cover the basics of the backfire effect. The information here is largely based upon the information presented by Full Fact in a publication from March 2019.

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What is the backfire effect?

Definitions;

(1) – Full Fact’s definition;

“A “backfire effect” refers to the effect that, when a factual claim reinforces someone’s ideological beliefs, telling them that the claim is wrong (“debunking” it) can actually make them believe the claim more strongly rather than less.”

(2) – Energyskeptic’s definition;

“Backfire effect – Evidence disconfirming our beliefs only strengthens them.”

(3) – Christopher Graves of Institue for Public Relations;

In regards to Jason Reifler in 2011, “he also encountered a strong “backfire effect” when presenting subjects with evidence they were incorrect. Even if the evidence appeared to be incontrovertible, subjects still discounted a truth they could find easily in the public domain rather than change their minds.”

My own definition would be something along the lines of;

The backfire effect may be observed when a person’s beliefs are strengthened by evidence which is presented to weaken that person’s beliefs.

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Some personal comments on my definitions; I am aware that identifying a fallacy where there is none is a fallacy in and of itself, but concerning the backfire effect, I think it may be beneficial to establish what is “contrary” evidence before jumping into a full swing of labeling an event as the backfire effect. Where one person may believe that their opposing evidence is strong and that the opponent rejects it for “weaker” evidence, it may be that the initial person’s evidence is not as strong as they believe.

This effect is not saying that everyone is experiencing the backfiring effect, but aims to define the interactions where the seemingly convincing evidence is dismissed to hold onto and support even more strongly than before their pre-existing belief.

A final note is that this seems similar to the Semmelweis Effect, but may be distinguished as different as this is not simply dismissing evidence, but believing the original belief even greater in light of the new evidence.

Have you ever seen this happen to someone?

Has this ever happened to you?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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References;

(1) – https://fullfact.org/media/uploads/backfire_report_fullfact.pdf

(2) – http://energyskeptic.com/2013/cognitive-bias/

(3) – https://instituteforpr.org/part-two-backfire-effect-change-minds/

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