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The Need to Believe


Explanations > Needs > The Need to Believe

Need | Example | Related to | Discussion |  So what?




We all have a need to believe. This may include:

  • Beliefs about how the world works and what should be done to make thins happen.
  • Religious beliefs, in the existence of God and an afterlife, and the holiness of books and people.
  • Beliefs about people, what they think and whether they are good or bad.
  • Beliefs about ourselves, including about our ability and character.

Beliefs are seldom thought of as being belief. They are often experienced more as fundamental truths.


A scientist believes that scientific laws explain all known phenomena.

A woman believes that her husband loves her.

A person believes a weather forecast that it will rain the next day.

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Part of Includes Related to
Control   Predict,



We all have to live and function in the world and we cannot know everything with real certainty, even those things where we are experienced and have particular knowledge. And so we have to believe. In fact it may be said that everything is a belief, particularly when you subscribe to the view that reality is constructed in our minds from the sensory data we receive.

Thinking 'this this is a belief' is a paradox. If we believe something to be true, then we act as if it is not true, and that anyone who denies this belief is denying the truth. This makes beliefs self-healing and highly resistant to being changed.

Life is a non-stop series of predictions from trivial and likely beliefs, such as that when we open our front door, there will be a whole world on the other side, to complex assessments of market demographics and political vote-catching. In all of these, we have to found our decisions more or less on beliefs. In some decisions we can be more certain, but even then we have to believe that the data we are using is valid or that our past experiences are good predictors of the future.

Believing can be a conscious choice, though often people do not notice beliefs being formed. They can appear from personal decisions, such as through logical analysis and conclusion. They often, however, come from other people. We get a lot of social beliefs through cultural inculcation when we are children. We also get beliefs from education as we accept what teachers tell us as being true. Later, we may also develop beliefs through experience and continued study. All this education works because we need to believe. If we demanded proof for everything, we would learn very little.

The need for shared belief is a basic requirement for social acceptance and feeds the need to belong. Joining any group means accepting those things that the group assumes to be unquestionably true. We also seek independence through beliefs we choose ourselves. It is a point of preference whether we accept more beliefs from others or derive them ourselves.

The need for religious belief is very significant, as can be seen in the independent founding of religions around the world, and it has been said (by Voltaire, no less) that if God did not exist, then we would invent him. In 'modern' cultures, deity-based belief has largely been supplanted by scientific belief. These are different yet similar beliefs as they both offer us rescue from the perils of the world, and so play to our need for sense of control.

The need for a sense of control is also fundamental in other beliefs as the absolute quality of belief helps to give us certainty and so facilitate many decisions.

So what?

Tread carefully around beliefs as challenging these can result in a fierce response. It can be easier to play to this need, for example by giving explanations for events and ideas that have a significant element of belief (although beliefs proposed should not contradict any strong beliefs the person already holds).

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