In another study, they were interested in whether this effect depended on whether the task instructed the participant to divorce their responses from their previous beliefs and attitudes. To do this, they asked another group of undergraduate participants to complete reasoning tasks. For example, participants were given two independent premises, such as "All things that are smoked are good for the health," and "Cigarettes are smoked," and a conclusion, "Cigarettes are good for the health." Participants are then asked explicitly to decouple their previous attitudes and beliefs from their reasoning in the task, and decide whether the conclusion logically follows from the premises. Participants who were successful would answer that yes, this conclusion follows logically from the premises, despite their pre-existing belief that cigarettes are not actually good for health. Individuals who were vulnerable to myside bias would answer no because the conclusion is inconsistent with their beliefs. They found that individuals with higher intelligence were less likely to be vulnerable in this task. Thus, more intelligent individuals may be more skilled at engaging in objective, critical thinking, that is divorced from their pre-existing biases and beliefs than their lower intelligence peers, but only when explicitly instructed to do so.
Another important question is whether you want to cultivate critical thinking and reduce myside bias. In some ways, being able to make snap judgments based on your own intuition must be adaptive. For example, not walking through a dark, abandoned alley alone would create a bias against walking down that alley. However, this same bias explains the reasoning errors made by members of the Nazi Party during WWI and WWII, as well as individuals who stay in relationships with someone who is physically or verbally abusive.
Thus, I end this post, and coincidentally this year, with an exercise for improving your ability to think critically in 2014. Spend a few minutes thinking about the beliefs you hold, or more importantly, the decisions you have made lately that are driven by beliefs you hold. In the article, Dr. Stanovich uses controversial political examples such as organ donation, criminal rehabilitation, and abortion. I think this can be extended to even more daily beliefs about what foods are healthy to eat, or what areas of your community are safe to frequent. Take stock of the objective evidence that you have to support those beliefs. Take stock of all of the objective evidence that you have to refute those beliefs. Do you hold any beliefs where there is no evidence to support them? Are those beliefs affecting your relationships with others, your mental or physical well-being, your financial stability?
My expectation is that 9 of 10 beliefs will be reaffirmed after going through this exercise, but you will have practiced thinking critically about your core beliefs anyway. That remaining one belief however may be holding you back or may be driven simply by hearsay, so why not reconsider? What is it about that belief that helps you be who you are and can you be the same person, or a better and happier person, without it?