Of all the columnists in The Washington Post, one of my favorites is Shankar Vedantam who writes "Department of Human Behavior." He's not only a good, clear writer, his research is excellent, and he has no axes to grind. He tells it like it is. In his recent column entitled "The Power of Political Misinformation," he explores how information affects different types of people. When exposed to misinformation, people with more traditionally conservative views tend to believe it more readily than people with more liberal approaches. The fascinating part happens when evidence is later produced that contradicts the misinformation. Liberal thinkers tend to return to a belief only slightly more negative than what they originally held. Those with a conservative viewpoint actually became more negative.
How does this apply to guys going through the midlife transition? Since the mechanism behind this unexpected behavior is directly linked to a person's comfort level in dealing with levels of uncertainty, I think that we can expect these tendencies to be strongest during midlife, when external uncertainties only exacerbate the internal uncertainties that run wild during this period of life. When your emotional world is already being turned on its head, what could you expect other than a frantic grab for more certainty from those who are fundamentally fear-based?
I know that, to some, I may be going out on a limb here; but evidence strongly suggests that people with conservative views have a much more difficult time dealing with uncertainty, and that this difficulty is most often neurologically fear-based: a sort of cultural PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). So far, I haven't heard of any studies on the subject, but I'd be willing to speculate that people who are culturally conservative (rank high on the cultural 'uncertainty avoidance' scale as defined by Geert Hofstede) have a more difficult time with the midlife transition than their counterparts. After all, the midlife transition is that time when, in an emotionally healthy individual, all foundational beliefs and values come under scrutiny and question. It's a time in life when, very often, there seems to be no certainty at all, because the old paradigms have crumbled under the weight of ennui, and a new, more authentic belief and value system has not yet taken its place.
The plight of those who, for whatever reason, are more inclined to believe misinformation after it's been debunked provides only a particular example of a much more wide-spread tendency: people who are very uncomfortable with uncertainty tend to adopt a worldview that's based more on wishful thinking than on fact and actuality. Although it's evidently a survival tactic in a world that's perceived as threatening and dangerous, it's equally evidently a maladaptive response. Living in a world of your own creation - where you set yourself up as the unique meaning-giver - could be characterized as being culturally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually paranoid schizophrenic. Although that world may appear internally consistent (after all, it's designed to be that way), it consequently relegates all contradictory evidence to the realm of conspiracies: those who don't agree with you are up to no good.
Life as we know it is already rife with maladaptive defense mechanisms. Systematically getting rid of (or at least learning to manage) these once-necessary defenses, which have long since turned on us, makes up the bulk of the maturing process. The midlife transition marks a watershed in a man's life: you have the choice whether to go forward and build for yourself a workable and authentic personal foundation based on discernment of core spiritual principles (like the on-going search for your unique purpose and meaning), or to return to the black-and-white world of artificial certitude (laws, rules, and regulations).
What should you do with uncertainty? Learn to live with it! That's the only way forward through the midlife transition. Going back to old (and imagined) certitudes will leave you repeating the same dead-end behaviors over and over again: divorce after divorce, job after job, career after career, illness after illness, disappointment after disappointment. The fear-based person can't move forward because he sees his plight as something that other people (or the world in general, or even God) are doing to him. The victim mentality keeps him stuck in childish fantasies and unable to transition into a mature and authentic life. Uncertainty avoidance is the bane of midlife: practice it at your own risk!
source: H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC