Forming Opinions

20th August 2017

This was one difficult piece to write. At first, I thought it would be fun - I’m one of those jerks who has an opinion on most things. However, typically I like to insure the information I pass on is current and well tested. On the topic of forming opinions there unfortunately isn't the sort of research I would usually look to. The irony therefore is that much of what I am writing about 'forming opinions', is in fact – my own opinion. Please enjoy with a grain of pink salt xx.

What is an opinion anyway? Is it information, an idea, are they usually true, or are they mostly false? An opinion is the result of mind exercise; a topic floats around inside your head, bouncing off bits of information you bring up with your conscious and unconscious mind, developing over time in to what you believe to be correct. However, the inferential process or method of thinking used to generate your opinion can come about in one of two ways according to the dual-process theory. The default inferential process for adults is to think fast, intuitively and unconsciously. For example, you and your friend might debate the hotness factor of a passer-bye, but with your conclusion being relatively intuitive. Alternatively – with some effort – adults have the ability to be reflective, metacognitive, and logical [1]. This means that opinions can be both the thoughtful expression of a topic that has undergone logical critical thinking, or a kneejerk response derived unconsciously from the minds vast information stores.

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”  John. F. Kennedy

Our external world is overwhelmingly fast paced and infinitely complex, and internally, we each have a set of our own emotional problems to deal with. This makes it impossible for an individual to have an informed opinion on every topic ever; however, this doesn’t stop us from climbing up on to our high horses to give voice to what’s inside. Why do we feel the need to contribute to every debate, and why do we hold opinions that are not in fact our own.

There are a couple of reasons why Individuals may hold to opinions that are not their own, or to opinions that they don’t fully understand. Firstly, holding feelings of inferiority such as self-doubt or feelings of low self-worth are negative thoughts that allow an individual to feel certain that others must know better. When you feel inferior, you are more likely to simply take on-board the more ‘informed persons opinion’. While it’s good to keep an open mind and consult experts in areas that interest you, it is not a good idea to adopt what others say without thinking critically about what they are saying. The second reason people hold to opinions not their own is that they have a desire to conform. This feeling of needing to conform may be a hard one to shake, as it seems to be part of normal human development, and the learning process [2]. Although, as we mature, our unique experiences hopefully allow us to be more individual. Next time you find yourself voicing an opinion, ask yourself ‘where are these thought coming from’ as most people are completely unaware that their opinions are not their own.

“A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought.”   Warren Buff

While understanding that each one of us is somewhat bias, naive, and infinitely time poor, we still often feel as though we should have an opinion, especially on the current hot topics. My advice: you don’t always need to have an opinion. When you think about it, just having an opinion on a topic does not make an individual superior in any way. Maybe it’s a topic that deep down doesn’t really interest you. This may be when you revert to adopting opinions that are not your own, but rather than taking on board someone else’s personality, why not challenge yourself to think rationally and develop opinions that are true to you!

As you begin your opinion forming journey, your first port of action should be to absorb as much information on the topic as you can. Read, watch, and listen to what is currently available on the topic. During this exercise, you may notice certain authors have agendas that motivate them to have particular views on topics. This is why I suggest you ready widely, and consider where and how the information being presented was gathered. The next step is to voice the information you have gained; chat with your peers, and engage in friendly debates with an open mind. This will allow you to verbally assess what you have learned, let you pick up new bits of information, and ultimately grant you an opinion that is informed, logical, critical and most importantly – true to you J

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”  Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Lots of Love - Jackie

 

References

  1. Byrnes & Dunbar (2014). The nature and development of critical thinking. Education Psychology Review.
  2. Haun et al. (2014). Children conform to the behaviour of peers; other great apes stick with what they know. Psychological Science