Nowhere is this more evident than in guidance on wearing masks. Initially, the CDC indicated that there’s no need to wear masks to protect yourself or others from COVID-19. Over time, as research evidence accumulated on the benefits of wearing masks, the CDC changed its guidelines, highlighting the importance of masking in public. That’s how science works: changing evidence results in changing guidelines.
But that’s not how our brains work, at least for those without training in critical evaluation of evidence.
The result? Many disregarded the new guidance, especially if those they considered authority figures did not reinforce it. Consequent to a mental blind spot called emotional contagion, we tend to adopt the perspectives of those we see as authority figures. With their guidance, we can overcome initial anchoring; without it, we will stick to our initial perspective.
Just as problematic is another dangerous judgment error that cognitive neuroscientists call normalcy bias. This mental blind spot refers to the fact that our gut reactions drive us to feel that the future, at least in the short and medium term of the next couple of years, will function in roughly the same way as the past: normally.