Belief perseverance is defined by Meyers as "Persistence of one's initial conceptions, as when the basis for one's belief is discredited but an explanation of why the belief might be true survives." This phenomenon is readily observable and at many times throughout the film Prisoners of Silence. It can be observed in the man who discovered facilitated language, parents of autistic children, teachers, facilitators and even in the view of the film.
The video begins by introducing a revolutionary new possibility in the understanding of what autism is and how to approach those persons afflicted. Through a technique called "facilitated language" many autistic children were seemingly freed from the inability to communicate. Many were able to "speak" freely through a letter keypad with the help of a facilitator or guide. There are stories upon stories of success - of students, teachers, families, etc.
But the success couldn't last. Things truly were too good to be true. As we saw, red flags were being thrown up all over the place. The evidence was growing overwhelmingly that the words being attributed to the patients were, in fact, the words of the facilitators.
Study after study confirmed this suspicion. Patients could not identify objects not also in view of the facilitator; they could not communicate at all without facilitator guidance. The patients never needed to be taught language. Could that be possible? How is it that patients could type so clearly without ever looking at the keypad? The questions kept on coming.
First of all, despite the evidence, very few were convinced that facilitated speech could be untrue or ineffective. An interview with the founder is the strongest example of belief perseverance in the film. Although he is aware of the overwhelming evidence that his technique is faulty (the basis for his belief has been discredited), Dr. Biklen is quite capable of reasoning why it may still be true.
For example, when presented with the data collected by a double-blind study he has the following reasons it may have turned up such negative results: a "test" is a confrontational situation and the patients may have been uncomfortable "proving themselves." He said it is possible that patients and/or facilitators may have frozen when asked to perform for researches. He also claimed that many patients experience severe "word forming" problems. By this he meant that, although the patient may recognize the object, he may be unable to retrieve its name from memory. Each of these could be true. However, to a person looking objectively, Dr. Biklen is clearly attempting to justify a persistent belief.
Many parents had stories about children using facilitated speech. One woman believes despite evidence because she has seen her daughter make up words for objects she...