Are You Sure That's What You Think? Fast Psychological Facts About Opinions

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but are you sure yours is your own?

Humans are complex creatures; rational in principle but erring in practice. Our passion for a cause, commitment to an issue or deep belief on a topic will see us launch a swift attack on those who pose a counter argument and if asked, we'll swear black and blue that we are in the right. 

But opinion by its nature is subjective. There is no single truth and you cannot grasp a thing as impalpable as perception to throw it back in someone's face. 

The internet is the ultimate snake pit of opinion, both dressed up as expertise and laid bare in abuse. Lacking the moderation of other media it's an even playing field for viewpoints and we're poised and ever ready to express our own.

But just how personal is your opinion? Social psychologists - the experts in how our beliefs and opinions are influenced by the presence of others - will tell us that we're far more swayed by the opinions of others than we'd like to think. And get a few of us together, lob in the grenade of a differing perspective and things can turn pretty nasty.

Here are three fast psychological facts about opinions and how social forces drive our behaviour.

1. What's with the trolls? Express an unpopular view online and you'll very likely find yourself the target of trolls. But what propels us to write online what we'd rarely feel game to utter face to face?

Deindividuation theory suggests that if you gather a crowd, online or off, the sense of anonymity, group unity and heightened emotion that forms can see us check our usual restraints like guilt and shame at the door. We're far less sensitive to environmental and other cues that should tell us to back off, our rational forethought diminishes and we're primed for antisocial behaviour. It's unpleasant but its human.

2. Kings and queens can still rule the internet. We may be sitting alone at a keyboard but mob mentality is alive and well online. Emergent norm theory explains how a distinctive personality can stand tall and gather hearts and minds for good or evil. If our hero expresses a view and no-one offers a contrary opinion there's tacit agreement to its legitimacy. People don't much like to stand out so we'll run with the mob far more readily than we might like to admit.

3. The Sneetches on the Beaches. We all like to hang with others of our ilk and social identity theory suggests that when the 'in group' says jump, we all ask, 'How high?' Every group drawn together by common interests, motives or values establishes an unspoken set of acceptable attitudes or behaviour. Online is no different to offline. When a group expressing one opinion collides with a group with an opposing view, our beliefs (rational or otherwise) are galvanised. Forget reason and logic, it's time for the sparks to fly!

What surprises you most about people's behaviour online?