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Adaptive Beliefs

 

Explanations > Beliefs > Adaptive Beliefs

Description  | Example | Discussion | So what

 

Description

Some beliefs are fixed and unchanging. When they are challenged, the result is likely to be something along the lines of fight-or-flight, as the challenge is refuted or ignored. Many beliefs, however, are open to challenge. However, the way the person copes with new information can vary.

The principle of adaptation is that, when it seems necessary that new information is adopted, the core part of the belief is not changed. What happens is that an addition, an exception, is added to the belief. Like a sticking plaster, it extends the system to cope with the new situation.

Example

A person believes that a friend is always on time. When the friend is late because of traffic, the person adapts their view of the friend to believing that they are reliable except when traffic is heavy.

A group of people believe that their God will help them succeed. When they fail, they modify their belief so the God helps them succeed only when they are deserving.

Discussion

Beliefs tend to be firmly held and we are often unwilling even to contemplate changing them. Adapting a belief gets the best of both worlds. We do not have to throw away the original belief while the addition ensures the belief copes with all known situations.

Adaptive beliefs are often conditional, adding 'if' and 'when' conditions that allow the original belief to be the founding principle while the adaptation is applied only in particular circumstances.

There is much in life that would be simple if it were not for the variations, changes and other exceptions that mess up what is often a basically very simple process. For example a dentist's booking system needs to handle latecomers, date changes, over-runs and so on. Adaptive beliefs are similar, being extended to cope with situations where they would otherwise not work as well.

Adaptive beliefs are closely related to learning. If a person is unable to change their beliefs, they may find it difficult to learn, yet few people are able to throw away their existing beliefs. A middle way uses adaptation as a way to cope with new information without having to change one's existing position too far.

A problems with adaptive beliefs is that they can become overloaded with adaptations and hence rather unwieldy in operation. In such beliefs the simple, core belief can get hidden as adaptations are used in most situations. This can also turn into a whole belief system. Religions can be viewed in this way, with a core belief in the existence of a deity and a few core rules for how to behave, that somehow turn into a complex system of directives, variations, additions and, of course, a whole priesthood to interpret and extend any adaptations.

So what?

When understanding a person's beliefs, differentiate between unchanging core belief and adaptive extensions. Then uphold the core belief while challenging adaptations, showing how these do not support the core belief. For example a political lobbyist may argue that a core belief of freedom and the right to carry arms is not served by existing gun laws that at some stage allowed automatic weapons. They change the beliefs of politicians that people should only carry single-shot weapons.

See also

Adaptation

 

Brock W.A. and Hommes C.H. (1997). A Rational Route to Randomness. Econometrica, 65, 5, 1059–10

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