The Argument in Favor of Argument.
March 19, 2022
Sam Schikowitz

According to Hugo Mercier, researcher at the CNRS (Institut Jean Nicod, Paris), human reasoning has evolved to argue.

We would think that human reason should simply and dispassionately find the best answer.

In Hugo’s TedX talk, he reveals how our tendency to argue may be a feature, not a flaw.

Confirmation Bias

Human thinking suffers from a “My Side Bias” (confirmation bias) which causes people to reinforce their position with arguments (reasons.)

We normally think of confirmation bias as a flaw or weakness in human thinking, but through his research, we see that this could be a feature.

Confirmation bias encourages people to more fully inhabit and develop their positions, creating the best possible case for that position.

In effective group decision making, the development of these positions is just the first step.


In order for the best thoughts to prevail, there must be time and space allocated to evaluating the various arguments…
time for an “argument” in a sense.

It turns out that, during argumentation (deliberation and debate), people’s ability to evaluate the strength of a number of opposing positions is much better than we would expect, given the strength of human confirmation bias.

In his research, during a solitary reasoning phase, most of the individuals reasoning on their own were unable to get past their confirmation bias and arrive at the correct answer to a difficult problem.

However, during a phase of argumentation in the study, the participants were able to evaluate the strength of the various options and steadily converted their opinions away from their own and toward the correct option.


This finding is also true with children.
Children argue their cases very early.
Fortunately, when presented with strong arguments that are contrary to their own, they have the ability to evaluate the various arguments and change their minds.


Hundreds of studies of cooperative learning in educational facilities show that group deliberation results in deeper and more correct understanding of the subject matter.


Argumentation works in science. There are certainly cases of science failing to accept new evidence because of the confirmation biases of a few senior scientists whose career is based on specific positions.
However, this is the exception, not the rule.
Science has shown that it is capable of accepting revolutionary new concepts as fast as the sharing and evaluation of the evidence allows.

At work

Argumentation works in the workplace.
There was a large scale study on how experts such as military or business leaders make predictions.
The study showed that these experts made better predictions when they were able to argue with eachother, compared to reasoning on their own or simply looking at the positions of the other experts but not talking with them.


When juries deliberate, better decisions are made as jurors are able to compensate for each other’s biases.


Dozens of experiments in deliberative democracy have shown that citizens opinions become less extreme and better outcomes result when members deliberate before deciding.


In morality, argumentation is critical. As an example, the slave trade was abolished primarily by argumentation.

In summary

The take home message here is that deliberation, discussion, and argumentation is what turns a fault, confirmation bias, into a feature.

The human flaw to hold and develop one’s argument becomes a part of a larger social strategy to find the best options.

Forby uses the best discussion technology, twitter style conversations, to fuel the deliberation needed in political process.