By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
"Earned Dogmatism" is a relative newcomer as an academic phrase, but it refers to the closed-mindedness that sets in once one dons the "expert" hat. While we like to think of experts as broad-minded, creative, and analytical, new research suggests that the "expert" label is more likely to induce a dogmatic mindset. This may have been what the famous industrialist Henry Ford had in mind: "None of our men are 'experts'" he said. "The moment one gets into the 'expert' state of mind a great number of things become impossible.” A recent series of studies (Ottati et al., 2015) suggests that Mr. Ford was on to something. Discussed in an interview with National Public Radio's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, the studies demonstrated that manipulating the self-perception of expertise causes changes in attitude, making the volunteers less open-minded.
The team, led by Loyola University's Victor Ottati, administered tests to volunteers and made some feel artificially like experts by giving them an easier test. "Success on these tests puts the person in a position of temporarily feeling that they are an expert," Ottati explained, "And then we noticed that the people respond in a more close-minded manner than the people who have recently just failed." Apparently, the reason for that increased closed-mindedness is that a feeling of expertise boosts confidence. That, of course, is often a good thing, but it can also make people less willing to consider points of view other than their own -- it can make them more dogmatic. While the study was conducted in the artificial setting of a lab, it is easy to see how its central findings can apply to experts in legal contexts as well. When one's colleagues, clients, and courts bestow that title of "expert" on you, the resulting feeling of self-importance might create confidence rising to the level of arrogance. If the result is to make an expert more dogmatic, that mindset can be a liability when that expert is challenged by an adversary. This post takes a look at the opportunities for calling that out in the other side's experts and for guarding against it in your own.