Are We Stubborn or Manipulable?
By Bryan Caplan
It just occurred to me that there’s a serious tension between two common psychological observations:
1. People are mentally stubborn, explaining the ubiquity of long-lasting disagreement.
2. People are easy to manipulate because they are extremely vulnerable to “mental contamination.”
You might try to resolve this tension by saying that we’re caught in a mighty tug-of-war between opposing manipulators. We seem “stubborn” as a result of the fact that the forces that control our beliefs typically cancel each other out by pulling in opposite directions. But on this theory, we should still be highly responsive to a little extra manipulation. Adding one more slippery argument to the scales of a single mind ought to make a big difference. Does it? Not in my experience.
Overall, it seems like stubbornness is the rule of mental life, and vulnerability to manipulation just a marginal, oversold exception. Am I right? If I’m wrong, your own position implies that I should be easy to convince…
P.S. Merry Christmas! And if your Christmas dinner conversation seems a little dull, try bringing up an old EconLog post to liven things up. 🙂