By: Kendra Cherry
How to Cultivate Open-Mindedness
Learning how to be more open-minded is possible, but it can be a bit of a challenge. In many ways, our minds are designed to view concepts as wholes.
We develop an idea or a category of knowledge, which the psychologist Jean Piaget referred to as a schema. As we come across new information, we tend to want to sort it into one of our existing schemas in a mental process known as assimilation.
Sometimes, however, the new things we learned don’t quite fit in with what we already know. In this instance, we have to adjust our understanding of the world in a process known as accommodation. Essentially, we have to change how we think in order to deal with this new information.
Assimilation tends to be a fairly easy process; after all, you’re just filing new information into your existing filing system. Accommodation is more difficult. You’re not just putting something into an existing file; you’re creating a whole new filing system.
Sometimes new information requires rethinking the things you thought you knew. It requires reevaluating your memories and past experiences in light of what you’ve learned.
In order to do this, you have to be able to set aside your judgments, take a serious look at the existing evidence, and admit that you were wrong. That process can be difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful or life-changing. It takes a lot of mental effort, but you can train your brain to be more open-minded.
Fight Confirmation Bias
A cognitive tendency known as the confirmation bias can be one of the biggest contributors to closed-mindedness. Overcoming this tendency can be a bit tricky. The confirmation bias involves paying more attention to information that confirm our existing beliefs, while at the same time discounting evidence that challenges what we think.
Being aware of the confirmation bias is perhaps one of the best ways to combat it. As you encounter information, take a moment to consider how this bias might affect how you evaluate it.
If it seems like you are readily accepting something because it supports your existing views, take a moment to consider some arguments that might challenge your ideas. Learning how to evaluate sources of information and be an informed consumer of scientific stories in the news can also be helpful.
Findings ways to overcome the confirmation bias can be a great way to cultivate an open mind. Be aware of this bias and look for ways to challenge your existing assumptions to make sure you are not simply cherry-picking information that supports what you already believe to be true.
Most people like to believe in their own sense of intellectual virtue. And in many ways, it is important to be able to have trust and faith in your own choices. But it is good to remember that what might seem like being resolute and committed to certain ideals may actually be a form of closed-minded stubbornness.
Part of being open-minded involves being able to question not just others, but also yourself. As you encounter new information, ask yourself a few key questions:
In many cases, this sort of self-questioning might help deepen your commitment to your beliefs. Or it might provide insights that you hadn’t considered before.
Give It Time
When you hear something you disagree with, your first instinct may be to challenge it or just shut down. Instead of listening or considering the other perspective, you enter a mode of thinking where you are just trying to prove the other person wrong, sometimes before you even have a chance to consider all of the points.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotional response you have to something. You disagree, you don’t like what you’ve heard, and you might even want the other person to know just how wrong they are.
The problem with that sort of quick-draw response is that you are acting in the heat of the moment, not taking the time to really consider all aspects of the problem, and probably not arguing all that effectively.
The alternative is to give yourself a brief period to consider the arguments and evaluate the evidence. After you hear something, take a few moments to consider the following points before you respond:
Open-mindedness requires more cognitive effort than dogmatism. Just being willing to consider other perspectives can be a challenge, but it can be even more difficult when you find yourself having to revise your own beliefs as a result.
Giving yourself time to consider information can help you approach it with a more open mind. This often takes more effort, but it can be a great way to learn more about other points of view.
Even if you are an expert on a topic, try to keep in mind that the brain is much more imperfect and imprecise than most of us want to admit. As research has shown, being knowledgeable about something can actually contribute to closed-mindedness.1
When people think that they are an authority on a topic or believe that they already know all there is to know, they are less willing to take in new information and entertain new ideas. This not only limits your learning potential, but it can also be an example of a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. This bias leads people to overestimate their own knowledge of a topic, making them blind to their own ignorance.
True experts tend to actually be more humble about their knowledge; they know that there is always more to learn. So if you think you know it all, chances are that you probably don’t.
As science communicator and television personality Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” Without an open mind, you’ll never have the opportunity to consider those other perspectives and experiences. You’ll never get to know what others know.
How to Encourage Open-Mindedness in Others
If you want to encourage others to be open-minded, avoid arguing and be respectful. This minimizes the risk that the other person will feel attacked or become defensive. Instead, ask questions about how the other person thinks and feels, and then supply questions that might help encourage them to consider other perspectives or ideas.
Advice, Open Mindedness, openness