Why are we arguing?


“In a dispute, truth is born”? No matter how it is. There is a big difference between a dispute and a discussion, and if something meaningful can arise in the latter, then the first is, in fact, a duel. And I don’t like to fight since childhood. I am in favor of peace negotiations.

What is a dispute?

Ushakov’s Explanatory Dictionary explains the meaning of the word as follows: “A dispute is a mutual bickering, verbal (oral or written) competition, in which each of the parties defends its opinion, proves its innocence.”

The argument is aggressive. Competition does not imply the ability to hear and understand another; its goal is victory. Where did you see at the Olympics that athletes were ready to give in to each other? Dispute for gambling. Developing in time, it spurs, draws in, provokes emotions, can lead to anger and mutual insults, and even to a big quarrel.

The argument feeds the ego. Its essence is to oppose one’s own, “correct” opinion to someone else’s – “wrong.” And the goal is not to find the truth and not to understand the other, but to prove your innocence. For many, this is so important that even strong arguments from the other side cannot convince them. Because giving in is tantamount to losing and hurts your self-esteem. What kind of “search for truth” is there, not up to it at all.

Why the brain is deaf to the arguments of the opponent

And why is the conviction of the correctness of his opinion so difficult to hear the arguments against him?

A recent study at the University of London helped to learn more about what happens in the brain during these moments. Scientists set out to understand which neural mechanisms contribute to a phenomenon called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias has long been known to psychologists, but the neurophysiology of the phenomenon has not been properly studied.

This kind of cognitive bias makes people choose exactly the information that confirms their opinion. This is especially true when we are very emotionally involved. To illustrate, consider the kitchen debate about politics, when opponents can squabble. Excessive self-confidence prevents people from changing their minds, even if they face undeniable evidence of the falsehood of their beliefs.

The experiment took place with the participation of 75 people, observing the movement of points on a computer screen. Everyone’s brains were connected to a magnetoencephalographic scanner. Based on the activity of the brain and the responses of the participants, the scientists obtained evidence: people who were absolutely confident in their answer were not able to perceive the information refuting it, but they were sensitive to everything that even indirectly could confirm their opinion. But the brains of the less confident participants in their answer remained sensitive to the arguments “for” and “against”.

But the Dunning-Kruger effect describes the opposite phenomenon. It happens like this: the less competent a person is in some area, the more aplomb he expresses his opinion. Obviously, this applies to people with low intelligence and narrow horizons.


Of course, moving points in an experiment does not cause as much emotion in a person as an important problem that affects him personally. And since memory is a somewhat creative process, and our perception is akin to the lens through which we look at the world, the share of subjectivity in any of our judgments can be very large.

Think, for example, the summer of 2005. Was it cold or hot? “Good” or “Bad”? I am sure: having collided with their foreheads, two disputants can defend their opinion with foam at the mouth. Simply because a beautiful sunny day at the dacha with friends was deposited in the memory of one, and the other had wet feet and a runny nose due to an umbrella forgotten at home.

Moreover, people often argue with friends, family members. And the dispute between the two housewives about how to properly cook Olivier, with an apple or a fresh cucumber, can mask a showdown on a completely different topic.

This is especially true of the family, in which case why not look for what the problem really is? And instead of arguing with the father-in-law about whether to plant flowers or potatoes in the country, it is reasonable to discuss property disputes.

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