Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Extracting a Cultist

One might naturally think that to change someone's valued belief all that is necessary would be to show them another side. It's not so easy.

If you've read my other blog posts, you can see that there are very compelling reasons why people cling to a belief. Beliefs can easily become part of our very identities. The higher the personal cost in adopting the belief, the more we value it, and the tighter we cling. The years we hold that belief add up into sunk cost, and we figure we need to keep on - we've already put so much into it. Loss aversion comes into play, and we just don't want to give it up.

Briefly, most decisions, beliefs included, are made as a result of emotional pull. We later tell ourselves all sorts of good-sounding, rational reasons why we made that decision, but the fact is that our brains are hard-wired to naturally move by emotion. Smart people can come up with many more reasons than others to support their beliefs.

Once a decision is made, you have the need for consistency - no one likes disconfirming evidence and the uncomfortable dissonance that causes in the mind - as well as the confirmation bias, that makes us see only things that confirm our belief and literally not see what would disconfirm it.

"It is extremely rare for someone to simply abandon a valued belief when confronted with disconfirming information. In fact, recent psychological research shows that when this happens, people tend to hold the erroneous belief even more strongly." - Daniel Kahneman

So, what to do? How to help someone stuck in an obviously false and dangerous belief?

I think the only way to do it is to get them to step away completely - change their environment and surroundings - and then new views can work their magic. It was hard for me, because I had invested so many years into the group - all that sunk cost, and the false valuation I placed on my life in the cult. Moving away from big communes was the first step. Then my months of living away from the cult gave me a taste of freedom and helped me not want to live with other Family members ever again. The next important step was spending less and less time reading the publications. Finally, my mind was clear enough to see the truth in the British court statement, and I could call it quits.

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