Because of the intense polarization in our country, a great many Americans now see the life-and-death decisions they must make in living in the time of the pandemic as political choices rather than medical ones.
This dynamic is playing out among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. While the evidence shows that these methods are the best we have at present to slow and control Covid-19, some people, convinced that the virus is a hoax or that masks impair their breathing or their freedom, would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept that evidence — or admit to being wrong.
Cognitive Dissonance is the motivational mechanism that underlies the profoundly human reluctance to admit mistakes or accept unwelcome scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives.
Carol Tavris is a social psychologist and writer. Her books include Anger; The Mismeasure of Woman; and (with Avrum Bluming) Estrogen Matters. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Skeptic, the TLS, and many other publications. She lives in Los Angeles.
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