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Understanding Suspicion: new research shows that beliefs become entrenched when challenged.

Research into the neurological effects of hearing evidence contradicting political beliefs shows that far from accepting persuasion, we tend to further entrench our position.

The research undertaken at University of Southern California (Kaplan, Gimbel, Harris) and published at http://www.nature.com/articles... shows that "People often discount evidence that contradicts their firmly held beliefs. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms that govern this behaviour."

Using neuroimaging to see the results of evidence disproving strongly held beliefs, the researchers tested 40 "liberals" by presenting them with evidence that contradicted their strongly held political and non-political views.

"Challenges to political beliefs produced increased activity in the default mode network—a set of interconnected structures associated with self-representation and disengagement from the external world." In short, the more dogmatic a person's beliefs, the more they resist evidence to the contrary. The research specifically refers to "political beliefs" but, logically, the same would apply to opinions and, of course, ingrained cultural norms as well as religious beliefs.

A range of results were obtained in relation to a range of responses. Researchers say "These results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena."

"It is well known that people often resist changing their beliefs when directly challenged, especially when these beliefs are central to their identity," say researchers, going to to say "One model of belief maintenance holds that when confronted with counter-evidence, people experience negative emotions borne of conflict between the perceived importance of their existing beliefs and the uncertainty created by the new information."

This is consistent with the research published by Nigel Morris-Cotterill in his book "Understanding Suspicion in Financial Crime" in which he argued that finding suspicion is an emotional reaction to facts. He also emphasised that whether staff identified and reported suspicion was influenced by the culture in which they lived and operated. The new research demonstrates that there is more than simple attitude at play when e.g. staff are required to consider if a person's conduct is suspicious when they, themselves, think that the actions are in line with e.g. social or other norms.

Readers are strongly recommended to read the research paper at http://www.nature.com/articles... to further aid their understanding of how staff do and do not form and act on suspicion.

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