Person-Belief Dynamics

Many years ago I learned an interesting principle of communication theory. The principle describes a dynamic exchange between view of other and view of beliefs.  It states that if you agree with a belief that another person considers to be good (“G”), then that person will think more highly of you but then think less of “G”.  Likewise, if a person respects you but you support a belief that they think is bad (“B) then they will both lose some respect for you and their opinion of “B” will improve.  In other words, there is a trade-off.  If the words are confusing, perhaps my diagram above will help (click to enlarge). Most people understand how our opinion of others change, but many don’t understand how our own beliefs change.

As way of example:  after reading my post on circumcision (n=91), this is how readers’ views changed toward both me and the issue:

Readers View of Circumcision

  • 3% yes, a lot
  • 23% yes, a little
  • 74% no, not at all

Reader’s View of Me

  • 20 % thought a lot less of me
  • 14 % felt a little less of me
  • 50 % had no change in opinion
  • 16 % had their opinion of me improve

Part of the purpose of my circumcision post was to illustrate this person-belief dynamic.  I was trying to stir-up meta-conversations more than I cared about circumcision.

Questions to readers:

  • This principle is reflexive and probably on some levels almost impossible to escape.  Changes happen that you are not even aware of and may deny.  Do you agree?
  • Can you give us a fun illustration of this principle in your life?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “Person-Belief Dynamics

  1. I did not see where you were going with this, but it seems more obvious looking back. 🙂

    I’ve caught myself in this very same behavior, and I’ve been on both sides of the equation. In some cases, it is justified by the broadening of the perspective. In other cases, it has been purely reflexive. I try to combat the reflexive reaction when I recognize it, but that is tricky to consistently discern.

    I don’t have any amusing anecdotes to share about it. 😦

  2. I suppose people feel burdened by strong beliefs, and perhaps someone to “back us up” takes that burden off of us so we can have more perspective? This is why I feel strong communities are so important.

    And Sabio – I think I know which research you’re talking about – but do you have a copy or title of this study? I think I’ve read this one as well.

  3. @ The Wise Fool
    Ah, glad some of my writing is making sense. I tend to love meta-conversations.

    @ amelie
    I learned about this theory more than 25 years ago in college. If you can find any research verifying it, that would be great.

    Meanwhile, I have no idea what your first paragraph means or how it relates to my post. I may be a bit dense, but if you could help me out on that.

    My picture shows a guy lowering a belief only to show that they value it less, not to show that it is a burden.

    Communities allow people to hold beliefs that are wrong because they reinforce lies. Inter-community relations help to be a check on that. But most communities form out of some major agreements that don’t get challenged.

  4. I shall try to remember where I read about that study!

    As to the paragraph, what I meant was that maybe the person lowers the value of the belief because before they thought anyone agreed with them, they felt as though they had to be more extreme about it.

  5. @ amelie
    Great — it is nice to have another scientist commentor on the site! I am very fortunate with the folks that grace this site.

    And concerning that lowering — I get it now. Thanks. A person puffs up their belief only when they feel threatened and alone but may relax when they feel accepted and safe and willing to take a softer stance. Interesting.

  6. Thanks, Sabio, I’m grateful for this forum as well.

  7. exrelayman

    Well, I don’t qualify as a scientist, but I try to think logically, for whatever that’s worth (perhaps the operative word is try).

    I think I grok the concept, but it seems counter-intuitive to me. I have a hard time accepting that one study from 25 years ago definitively describes reality. Back in the day, several studies showed how the stars and planets described intricate circles within circles as they moved relative to a stationary earth. Better theories and more studies superceded the original studies with a heliocentric model of the solar system. So, while the idea presented may in fact be the case, it doesn’t seem to be particularly well supported by the amount of material here. More investigations, as well as some information about the methodology of the studies, would help a lot.

  8. @ Exrelayman,
    Seems like you simple said:
    (a) This is an old study which does not jive with my intuition, so I doubt it.
    (b) You did not supply references, so I doubt it

    It is good to doubt. You go right ahead. Maybe in my spare time I will try to dig up study sources — maybe it is all fictional memory for me.

    Doubt is good.

  9. @ Exrelayman,
    But I am curious about one thing: what about it is counter-intuitive for you?

  10. exrelayman

    It seems counter intuitive to me that if you agree with me about A, that my belief in A would weaken. Like I say, possibly that is so, but it seems like concurrence of opinion would strengthen rather than weaken that opinion.

    Of course, it is highly intuitive that the earth appears flat as I look out my window, for what intuition is worth.

  11. Sabio, just to add to what you and exrelayman were saying, behavior studies are so hard to interpret as well. I will save examples for my own darned blog, but it’s amusing to note that Sheldon Cooper (from the tv show) made a condescending remark about social sciences.

    However, old studies are sometimes great (assuming they are the most current information on a narrowly framed hypothesis). For my Master’s thesis, I used one study from 1672!

  12. “a” study, not “one” study. Sorry.

  13. @ exrelayman
    I may have to do another concrete example to aid your intuition. Maybe later.

    @ amelie
    Yes, I think exrelayman’s criticism of old study was a false criticism — that is why I was making it blatant.

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