One of my favorite editorial writers is New York Times columnist David Brooks. Unlike most blow with the wind conservative columnists who are adamantly for something until they become adamantly against it, Mr. Brooks remains true to a very well-defined ideology, and even though I usually don’t agree with him, I do respect him for his intelligence and his consistency. In today’s editorial - The Joys of Social Science - Mr. Brooks accumulates the findings of several social scientists, my favorite of which was a study performed by David Gal and Derek Rucker.
Here's the abstract of the study:
A seminal case study by Festinger found, paradoxically, that evidence that disconfirmed religious beliefs increased individuals' tendency to proselytize to others. Although this finding is renowned, surprisingly, it has never been subjected to experimental scrutiny and is open to multiple interpretations. We examined a general form of the question first posed by Festinger, namely, how does shaken confidence influence advocacy? Across three experiments, people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined. The effect was attenuated when individuals affirmed their beliefs, and was moderated by both importance of the belief and open-mindedness of a message recipient. These findings not only have implications for the results of Festinger's seminal study, but also offer new insights into people's motives for advocating their beliefs.
Funny the timing of this bit of info as I yesterday I was emailing a couple of buddies my hypothesis that the more someone doubts their religious beliefs the more likely they are to go around trying to convert others. I think David Puddy from the good old Seinfeld days had the right approach.