Overcoming Cognitive Barriers: Navigating the Resistance to Change in Decision-Making

Benjamin Bonetti Therapy Online Coaching

The ability to change our minds when presented with new evidence is a critical component of rational thinking and decision-making. However, numerous psychological factors can make us resistant to changing our beliefs, even when confronted with irrefutable facts.

In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind our resistance to changing our minds, with a focus on cognitive biases and the role of emotions in decision-making. By understanding these factors, we can develop strategies to overcome these barriers and make more informed decisions.

Cognitive Biases and Resistance to Change

Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking that can influence our judgments and decisions. These biases can contribute to our resistance to changing our minds when faced with new evidence. Some of the most common cognitive biases that impact our ability to update our beliefs include:

  1. Confirmation bias: This bias refers to our tendency to seek out, interpret, and remember information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs, while ignoring or dismissing evidence that contradicts them. Confirmation bias can make it difficult for us to change our minds because it reinforces our existing beliefs and makes contradictory evidence seem less credible.

  2. Anchoring bias: Anchoring bias occurs when we rely too heavily on an initial piece of information (the "anchor") when making decisions. This can make it difficult for us to change our minds when presented with new evidence, as we may continue to give too much weight to our initial beliefs.

  3. Sunk cost fallacy: The sunk cost fallacy is the tendency to continue investing in a decision based on the amount of resources already invested, rather than evaluating the decision's current and future value (3). This can make us resistant to changing our minds because we feel committed to our initial decision and reluctant to admit that we may have been wrong.

  4. Backfire effect: The backfire effect occurs when presenting someone with evidence that contradicts their beliefs actually strengthens their convictions, rather than prompting them to change their minds. This effect can make it challenging to persuade others with facts, as their resistance to change may increase when confronted with contrary evidence.

The Role of Emotions in Decision-Making

Emotions play a significant role in our decision-making processes and can contribute to our resistance to changing our minds. Some key aspects of the relationship between emotions and decision-making include:

  1. Emotional investment: When we are emotionally invested in a belief or decision, we may be more resistant to changing our minds. This emotional attachment can make it difficult for us to objectively evaluate new evidence and update our beliefs accordingly.

  2. Cognitive dissonance: Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we experience when we hold two contradictory beliefs or when our actions are inconsistent with our beliefs (5). To resolve this dissonance, we may resist changing our minds and seek out information that supports our existing beliefs, even when confronted with contradictory evidence.

  3. Identity and self-image: Our beliefs often form a part of our identity and self-image, making it challenging to change our minds without feeling a threat to our sense of self. This can make us resistant to new evidence that contradicts our beliefs, as accepting this information may require us to reevaluate our self-concept.

Strategies to Overcome Resistance to Change

Understanding the psychological factors that contribute to our resistance to changing our minds can help us develop strategies to overcome these barriers. Some practical tips for fostering a more open-minded approach to decision-making include:

  1. Cultivate intellectual humility: Develop a willingness to admit when you are wrong and acknowledge that your beliefs may be subject to change as new information becomes available.

  2. Seek out diverse perspectives: Actively seek out and consider alternative viewpoints, as this can help you overcome cognitive biases and broaden your understanding of an issue.

  3. Practice self-awareness: Regularly reflect on your beliefs and decision making processes, and be aware of the cognitive biases and emotional factors that may be influencing your judgments.

  1. Engage in active listening: When discussing issues with others, practice active listening by focusing on understanding their perspective, rather than simply trying to defend your own viewpoint.

  2. Encourage constructive disagreement: Foster an environment where respectful disagreement is encouraged, both in your personal and professional relationships. This can help you and others become more open to changing your minds when presented with new evidence.

  3. Develop critical thinking skills: Strengthen your critical thinking abilities by regularly questioning your assumptions, evaluating the credibility of sources, and considering alternative explanations for the evidence you encounter.


Our resistance to changing our minds when confronted with factual evidence is rooted in a complex interplay of cognitive biases and emotional factors. By understanding these psychological processes, we can develop strategies to overcome these barriers and make more informed decisions.

Cultivating intellectual humility, seeking out diverse perspectives, practicing self-awareness, engaging in active listening, encouraging constructive disagreement, and developing critical thinking skills can help us foster a more open-minded approach to decision-making and become more receptive to new evidence.


  1. Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220.

  2. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185(4157), 1124-1131.

  3. Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35(1), 124-140.

  4. Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2010). When corrections fail: The persistence of political misperceptions. Political Behavior, 32(2), 303-330.

  5. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Pres

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