Families who argue during the holidays may be less biased

democrats republicansDoes your family argue a lot during the holidays? This might actually be a healthy thing, according to a Virginia Tech professor.

Arguments often stem from biases that reinforce racial, political and religious beliefs, according to Virginia Tech’s Anne-Sophie Chaxel, an assistant professor at the Pamplin College of Business.

“Families that cultivate a culture in which disagreements are voiced may help raise individuals who are less prone to rely on their personal biases when they make decisions,” said Chaxel, who recently authored a study in Journal of Consumer Psychology that found a way to activate a mindset that leads people to become open to questioning existing beliefs, thus reducing their own bias.

These findings demonstrate potential for “holiday squabbles to have a functional utility in family circles because they cultivate a mindset that allows individuals to process new information without being tainted by prior preconceptions, in one word, let people be more open-minded,” said Chaxel.

Biases are a common phenomena because of a need for “cognitive consistency” or processing information in a way that confirms existing beliefs. Through this study Chaxel was able to disrupt the cognitive consistency thinking process by asking participants to write about why they agreed or disagreed with preset statements.

The research showed people who had written refuting statements were less likely to be influenced by their existing bias and the act of exposing oneself to beliefs that are different than their own helps counteract biased tendencies.

“We may avoid people who do not share our political views, merely because we think we are right; and we do not want others to try to convince us otherwise. So what would be the point to be confronted to an alternative viewpoint? Actually, mere exposure to disagreement is useful, not because it may change our political attitudes, this is only one part of the story, but because it changes the way we process information – it makes us more objective,” Chaxel said.

 

More on good confrontations

“Being surrounded by at least one individual who is willing to speak up against you in a meeting, e.g., a cabinet; or a campaign team, is important. Again, not necessarily because this individual would change your mind on a particular topic, but because it would make the decisions taken during meetings more rational, i.e. less prone to belief biases such as stereotyping or overconfidence.”

“We tend to prefer being around people who share our opinions, but disagreeing is very healthy. Sharing our beliefs with people who have opposing views is a natural way to create a counter-arguing mindset. Activating ‘counter-arguing mindset’ can help to reduce bias.”

“Usually we think we are objective when we make decisions, but we are very subjective. People unconsciously distort information to confirm their pre-existing beliefs.”