In each or these diagrams there are represented two conflicting beliefs (circles), and four aspects of cognition that are involved in belief formation and maintenance, emotion, critical reasoning, attention. and conscious thought, There are others but l have omitted them for simplicity. Represented at the bottom of each diagram is a collection of “evidence” that either confirms or disproves belief s A or B. Colour indicates activation of the relevant neuro-networks. No colour (white) means no activation.

Figure 1
This is an illustration of the cognitive style known as top down processing. A pre-existing belief that the individual has gained through a process such as acculturation For example, the mother of the individual has passed the belief on to them and they have accepted it without any reference to evidence for or against the belief. If they have held the belief for any length of time there will be an emotional attachment to the belief that reinforces it as a part of their world view at the same time as inhibiting the formation of beliefs that contradict this belief. In this instance the person is presented with both confirming and disconfirming evidence. The weight of the evidence is against the belief A, however, in this individual there is a lack of critical reasoning skills and so the strength of the pre-existing belief determines which evidence the individual attends to. Thus they employ only selective attention to attend only to evidence that reinforces belief A and so belief A retains dominance in the conscious thought of the individual.

Figure 2
Here we have a second example of top down processing. In this instance all the available evidence disconfirms belief A while confirming belief B. However, the emotional attachment that the individual has to the belief has blown it’s strength out of all proportion. The individual in this case does not even try to attend to evidence for the belief as they are absolutely certain of its veracity. This is the sort of reasoning we observe in fundamentalist religious views. In fact critical reasoning is decried as a threat to the belief and is thus actively discouraged.

Figure 3
This diagram is representative of the cognitive style known as bottom up processing. The individuals beliefs are informed by the evidence for or against them. Evidence is gathered, hypotheses formed to account for the evidence, evaluation conducted to establish the facts, and beliefs are chosen based on the hypotheses that conform to the evidence. This is the mode of thinking adopted by the scientific mind and the scientific community. As can be seen by the pattern of activation in the diagram, all evidence is attended to and all possibilities to account for the evidence, including our hypothetical belief A, are considered.

Figure 4
Of course it is not possible to think without emotion. In fact damage to a person’s emotional centres causes severe impairment to decision making processes. So there is always emotional input into thinking and decision making. However, when a mind is trained in critical reasoning skills, emotions are moderated.

Top down processing is based on preconceived ideas. Another term for this is schema driven cognition. The social version of this being stereotyping. This is a very efficient form of cognition as it takes up few cognitive resources, it aids individuals in making very quick decisions about how to behave. However, this efficiency trades off accuracy, The cognitions of individuals who predominantly think in a schema driven style are often fallacious, in other words it is the cognitive processing style that defines the wilfully ignorant. It is stupid thinking in that it requires minimal cognitive effort. It is the style of thinking that perpetuates beliefs such as: Women are too irrational for the vote, men don’t cry, all Aboriginals are drunks who abuse their kids, all people on the social security are bludgers, atheists worship Satan and are all driven by greed and self-interest, artistic males are gay, people of other races are inferior, environmentalists are dope smoking hippies, anyone who believes in social justice is a communist, drinking recycled water is the same as drinking sewerage, women don’t have the emotional constitution to handle positions of authority, Aboriginals just want handouts. Individuals who adopt this way of thinking, and unfortunately that is the majority of the human population, can have disconfirming evidence thrust into their faces and they still refuse to alter their beliefs and attitudes.