One of the books I read (and recommend) this month is Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Rom and Ori Brafman.  In it, the authors explore many of the common ways that humans and cultures derail rational thinking, along with ways of combating these behaviors.  It was a very fascinating read (at least for nerds like me), and has made me rethink the way I approach a number of situations.

One of the topics examined that I found most relevant to the discussions here, applicable to most Christians, ADM’s & non-ADM’s included, is Diagnosis Bias.  They observed this in multiple settings, from interviews to first dates to classroom instruction to NBA players.  [In the latter arena, they cited the research which shows that in the first five years of a player's NBA career, a player's draft order has far more impact on his playing time than the actual productivity, statistics and per-minute contributions of that player on the court.]

Each day we’re bombarded with so much information that if we had no way to filter it, we’d be unable to function.  Psychologist Franz Epting, an expert in understanding how people construct meaning in their experiences, explained, “We use diagnostic labels to organize and simplify.  But any classification that you come up with, ” cautioned Epting, “has got to work by ignoring a lot of other things – with the hope that the things you are ignoring don’t make a difference.  And that’s where the rub is.  Once you get a label in mind, you don’t notice the things that don’t fit within the categories that do make a difference.”

So, basically, humans tend to quickly label things so that they don’t have to continue to observe and evaluate.  Data that doesn’t fit the diagnostic label is discarded (or twisted to fit the diagnosis) and data that does fit is overemphasized.  Without intentionally, systematically and diligently working against this, though, you are in trouble if your initial diagnostic is off.

What does this sound like?

The Commitment Swamp

One of the other traps noted by the Brafmans is that of Commitment Bias – where once someone commits to a position, person, idea, etc., the cost of letting go becomes great enough that irrational behavior ensues in trying to stick to that commitment, beyond rational bounds.  This is sometimes called “throwing good money after bad…”

One demonstration of this behavior is called “Max Bazerman’s twenty-dollar auction” – where a professor auctions off a $20 bill to his classrom, where all bids must be in $1 increments.  The winner receives the $20, but both he/she and the second-highest bidder must pay out their bids for the auction.  In this experiment, typicallyt all but the top two bidders drop out quickly.  It is then not uncommon to see this bidding war go over $100…

Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who, together with Amos Tversky, first discovered and chronicled the phenomenon of loss aversion, offers a telling reflection of our psychology during such situations.  “To withdraw now is to accept a sure loss,” he writes about digging oneself deeper into a political hole, “and that option is deeply unattractive.”  When you combine this with the force of commitment, “the option of hanging on will be relatively attractive, even if the chances of success are small and the cost of delaying failure is high.”

We see this all of the time in blog discussions – where someone espouses a particular loosely-held belief.  This belief is criticized and, oft times, the original person then defends it beyond their “loosely-held” passion – making it more strongly-held than it originally was.  Eventually, they may have so invested in an argument that they cannot bear to lose face by backing down to their earlier “loose” position or non-position on the topic.  I’ve seen it happen recently in some of the “universalism” discussions (one one side of the spectrum), while seeing it most all the time at the other end of the spectrum (such as when clear evidence is brought to bear discrediting one of PB/Ken/Ingrid/other ADM’s arguments, and the individual just digs in much harder – refusing to admit wrong – or hurries to change the subject/divert the discussion elsewhere).


Recently, we’ve noted these (and other) ’swaying’ phenomena, along with instances where an ADM target and an ADM non-target can make the exact same statement, and one (the target) is lambasted, while the non-target is agreed with.  However, while we’ve tended to use such things as examples of the lack of the “D” (discernment) in ADM’s, what it really comes down to is poor diagnostics (the “d”iscernment part) with lots and lots and lots of blinders then entrenched with commitment bias and the fear of losing face.

Combating the Sway

Probably the most effective and notable way of combating these biases is to recognize them and call them what they are.

With Diagnostic Bias, when I read journal articles (religious or professional) that I suspect or know I have a bias for/against, I try to imagine that the person who wrote it either agrees with me and is a friend of mine (if I’m diagnostically biased against it) or that they are an opponent trying to persuade me (if I’m biased for it).  This has saved me on a number of occasions.

With Commitment Bias, particularly with blog discussions, I often take “time-outs” to discuss the topic IRL with someone I trust, to see if I’ve ‘dug in’ where I shouldn’t have.   Many times in threads I have had to issue apologies or partial-retractions because I’ve found myself defending something loosely-held far too strongly.  This isn’t because of any virtue I possess, though, but rather God using those around me to bring me back from an edge I’ve gone too close to, or crossed.  [You can also figure that if I've backed off and apologized, even if I don't mention it, I've received feedback (at least from my wife) that I'm over-committed on something.]

At a macro-level, this one is interesting.  For the first year of this blog’s operation, we/I fought rather hard in defending the right of emerging churches to exist and for the helpful voice they bring to the table.  As a result, we also had to consistently fight to try to demonstrate that we, ourselves, don’t consider ourselves “emergent/emerging”, and to fight that diagnostic label.  This past year has been some of the same, but some of the opposite, as well – where we’ve had to defend fundamentals of Christian teaching against liberal/lenient pressure, and then fought the “fundamentalist” diagnostic label.

Like so many things, I see the middle ground as somewhere important to hold.  Defying labels, and avoiding the diagnostic flaws inherent with labels.  Committing to positions, but not over-committing beyond the bounds of reason and Christian charity…

  • Share/Bookmark
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 at 2:40 pm and is filed under Blogging, Church and Society, In Tone and Character, Original Articles, book review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
+/- Collapse/Expand All

18 Comments(+Add)

1   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
December 30th, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Some really great thoughts. I also contend that when an issue is given “important” status it only elevates the need for aggressive defence. The word agreesive is a human emotion but is counter to the Christ behavior. The Scriptures teach a behavioral response that is paradoxical to most accepted and observable human interaction.

The last shall be first, esteem others better than yourself, turn the other cheek, are only a few among the many directions that seem counter to the human norm. And that is the quandry we are faced with daily, perhaps momentarily. Do we behave and speak in concert with the spirit of this world, or do we act other worldy in concert with the unseen kingdom?

Good thoughts, Chris, that should make us all evaluate ourselves not only in the light of truths we believe, but in the light of truths we ignore.

2   pastorboy
December 30th, 2008 at 3:13 pm

(such as when clear evidence is brought to bear discrediting one of PB/Ken/Ingrid/other ADM’s arguments, and the individual just digs in much harder – refusing to admit wrong – or hurries to change the subject/divert the discussion elsewhere).

Yay! I have 2 OP’s now directed (indirectly) at me! All IN ONE DAY!

Is this the AODM’s equivilant to 15 minutes of fame?


At least Chris admitted…we all do this…It is basic sociology. It is the kid in us.

3   Nathanael
December 30th, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Amen! In so many “discussions” (arguments) my flesh rears its ugly head and the Spirit of the living Christ is stifled.

It amazes me how humble our God is in allowing Himself to be stifled by my flesh, all the while gently whispering truth beneath my shouting lies.

He is so patient with me.

4   Bo Diaz    
December 30th, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I see that the alleged Pastor-Teacher Silva has resorted to for his authority a divorced pastor. What’s the deal there? Why does he tolerate such sinful lifestyles? He has allied himself with unrepentant sinners such as Stanley and Ingrid who continue in a lifestyle of sin.

5   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
December 30th, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Bo – for the record Ken was disagreeing with Stanley.

6   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
December 30th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

By normal human standards, the way of Jesus is irrational behavior.

7   Eugene Roberts
December 30th, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Very good Chris.

I would like to point out that I think you filter Chad’s comments in “the “universalism” discussions” through your own commitment bias. He would say something like “God desires that all be saved and God has eternity to work this out” (my own words not Chad’s) and you would then comment something like “Then we can do as we please and not worry because we will not be judged” (again my words – I’m trying condense your debate here). Chad never said there will be no judgement, no hell or consequences for sins, in fact I think he is unsure about how God will accomplish His desire, but you jump to these conclusions because of your commitment of what your concept of universalism is and how it is heretical. I am not saying Chad is right or you wrong, I just saw a lot of misreading on your part in that debate. (Please don’t start the debate up again)

I find it difficult to express myself in English again so I hope this makes sense.

8   Jerry
December 30th, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Chris L.,

I confess that’s one reason why I chose to write reviews of Jesus Wants to Save Christians. I had harbored, for quite some time, a commitment bias against anything Bell related. Sadly, I had done the very thing I’m now terrified of: I made judgments based on loose or little information. It’s like trying to judge a musician because of the way he looks without actually reading the lyrics to his songs or listening to his/her voice.

I think by and large Restoration Movement churches suffer this problem in incalculable ways. It is bred in to us at an early age. I have had to spend the last 14 years or so undoing a lot of what I learned in 4 years of Bible college for that very reason. It is detrimental to the health of the body of Christ, and, worse, it destroys whatever ministry could be done in the community at large.

That is, real life ministry in a church, with real people, in a community of 20 other congregations, is nothing like Introduction to Ministries or Restoration History. At some point, real life takes over and makes us softer, gentler, humbler and far more amazed at the grace of God.

Thanks for the post.

9   Phil Miller
December 30th, 2008 at 3:59 pm

I think it’s very hard to be in any denomination or fellowship and not take on some sort of “groupthink” mindset. It seems it’s almost mandatory to some degree. I mean, there has to be some reason we stay in one group opposed to another I guess. Even a non-denominational church can develop a superiority complex, though, because it start defining itself as not Baptist, not Methodist, not Lutheran etc.

It just seems that tribalism is inherent to human nature, and it’s just hard to work against it.

10   pastorboy
December 30th, 2008 at 5:14 pm


So now it s the dead catcher trying to derail this fine post…

But no one jumps on him…probably because he is dead and cannot be heard.

I see dead Catchers.

11   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
December 30th, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Observable psychoanalysis sees behavior and attempts to explain the motivation. No one has ever been able to explain the reason for the change in the Apostel Paul except…that his Damascus Road experience was actually true.

12   John Hughes    
December 30th, 2008 at 6:09 pm

Interesting article Chris. You had me up until “systematic(ally)”. We all know what a bad word that is in these parts. :-)

But seriously, I find that very true and I really, really do try to listen to the other side of the issue(s).

By the way, if you get two of us semi-pelagians Baptists in a room you’ll have at least three opinions. Oh wait, my church dropped the “Baptist” from the sign out front, creeping Warranism you know. :-)

13   Rick Frueh    http://http?//
December 30th, 2008 at 6:16 pm

If you get three emergents in a room you’ll have no opinions. :)

Three Calvinists? One truth.

14   iggy
December 30th, 2008 at 7:25 pm


If you get three emergents in a room you’ll have no opinions


Close… there is plenty of opinion… we just do not view disagreement as a mortal sin worthy of heretical damnation…


15   Mike    
December 30th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

I think one of the reasons that the emergent church appeals to so many people is because of it’s lack of (perceived or actual) groupthink. For the last 30 years our popular culture has been telling people to be their own person, think for themselves, be individuals, etc.

Then at most traditional churches we tell them don’t ask those questions, subscribe to our creeds, enroll in a membership class so we can (indoctrinate you) teach you what we believe. This goes against everything they “believe” and so they drop out, even though the church is warm, kind, and caring towards them.

I know when I was an elder at my old church I was chastised for not wearing a coat and tie to read the Bible lesson one Sunday… three button shirts were too casual and there had been complaints. This really irritated me, and it just now dawned on me why… they were telling me to join the groupthink and I valued my individualism too much to just blindly follow.

Great article, I think I will have to pick the book up for a read.

16   Christian P
December 31st, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Rod Blogojevich’s recent decisions make sense (as in why he’s unwilling to acknowledge any wrong doing) in light of this information.

What a foolish people we are.

17   Chris L
December 31st, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Christian – I was thinking the exact same thing…

Eugene – I agree (I think it was going on in both sides of the discussion), and I’m not going to start it back up :)

18   Julie
January 1st, 2009 at 12:22 pm

God help us.