For any constructive debate to take place, it is essential for participants to keep somewhat of an open mind – to be receptive to other viewpoints and to accept that our own convictions might not form an infallible truth. This approach to debates, but also life in general, allows us to connect and find common ground, even with people that do not see the world in the same way as we do. In general, it sustains the social fabric of our societies and prevents (extreme) polarization.
Two recent articles dive into the role of certainty (or confidence in one’s own knowledge) in the public debate regarding important topics. The first article reports on a study and finds a very interesting statistic regarding certainty in the context of American politics. They found that 12% of people reported being absolutely (100%) certain about their political beliefs on a zero-to-100 scale. However, at the fringes of politics, these numbers were far higher. 31,4% of (self-identified) extreme left-wingers and 40,6% of extreme right-wingers were 100% certain about their political convictions being right. Such certainty often leads to the idea that one’s own convictions are superior to other people. This belief in superiority can lead politically extreme people (on both the Right and Left) to be more intolerant, prejudiced and inflexible towards those who disagree with them.
A second study looked into people’s confidence in their knowledge on scientific topics (such as vaccine efficacy, climate change, or the Big Bang), compared to their actual knowledge. The results show that people who answered most questions wrong (and often contradicted scientific consensus), were generally convinced that they had a thorough understanding of the topics. This outcome implies that education is often not enough to teach people about these topics, as overconfidence in their own knowledge prevents them from admitting ‘wrong’ information.
If anything, these two articles show us the importance of doubt. To actively foster some intellectual humility within yourself and others. And there is definitely a role to be played by brands in this area. For example, Heineken already showed that it is okay to open yourself to other people’s viewpoints and find common ground in their #OpenYourWorld campaign. Yet, it’s a sensitive (often quickly politicized) area that brands often rather steer clear off. Is there a way your brand can play a role in a more open-minded society?