Most of us will admit that, sometimes, we’re wrong. But it’s still hard to concede when we are wrong in the heat of a political discussion. The more we argue for our views and lambast our opposition, the more we glue ourselves to our current beliefs. In fact, simply calling yourself a “Democrat” or a “Republican” cements you to certain views.

When economists Ethan Kaplan and Sharun Mukand tracked Californians’ political allegiances over time, they found that the simple act of identifying with a political party, regardless of the citizens’ actual beliefs, made them more likely to support that party’s platform. 

In September, 2001, immediately after 9/11, Californians were more likely to register as Republican. Over a decade later, those who registered after the attacks are still more likely to be Republicans than those 28-year-olds who registered the day before the attack.

Put it this way: imagine an 18-year-old who’s vacillating between registering as a Democrat or as a Republican. If that 18-year-old registered on September 10th as a Democrat, he’ll probably still be a Democrat today. If that exact same 18-year-old had registered on September 12th and, because of 9/11, registered as a Republican, he is more likely to vote Republican today. The 18-year-olds who registered the day before the attacks still experienced 9/11, but they’d already mentally committed themselves to a different party.

Robert Cialdini, professor of Psychology at Arizona State, calls this well-documented effect “growing legs.” Once we commit to something, we invent additional reasons why our actions are correct. Even when our original justifications are invalidated, we’ve already brainstormed new arguments to support our stance.  Visualize a table that, once propped up, “grows” additional legs. Even when the original legs are removed, it still stands.

The 18-year-olds who registered as Republican found additional reasons to remain that way, even after the 9/11 panic subsided. Their political party became part of their “social identity,” even if they were ideologically-identical to an 18-year-old who registered as a Democrat. Renouncing their political stance would mean renouncing part of their self-image.

For all of BB&N’s sophisticated political arguments, we might as well blindly pull the lever on election-day. Once we commit to a belief, many of us cling to it, scrambling to justify it when we are challenged. But finding additional reasons why we’re right doesn’t serve any good unless we first embrace the possibility that we might be wrong. Only then can we evolve our political stances and grow as political minds.