Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study

That is a new paper by Dan M. Kahan, at Yale Law School, and it has to do with what I call “mood affiliation”:

Social psychologists have identified various plausible sources of ideological polarization over climate change, gun violence, national security, and like societal risks. This paper reports a study of three of them: the predominance of heuristic-driven information processing by members of the public; ideologically motivated cognition; and personality-trait correlates of political conservativism. The results of the study suggest reason to doubt two common surmises about how these dynamics interact. First, the study presents both observational and experimental data inconsistent with the hypothesis that political conservatism is distinctively associated with closed-mindedness: conservatives did no better or worse than liberals on an objective measure of cognitive reflection; and more importantly, both demonstrated the same unconscious tendency to fit assessments of empirical evidence to their ideological predispositions. Second, the study suggests that this form of bias is not a consequence of overreliance on heuristic or intuitive forms of reasoning; on the contrary, subjects who scored highest in cognitive reflection were the most likely to display ideologically motivated cognition. These findings corroborated the hypotheses of a third theory, which identifies motivated cognition as a form of information processing that rationally promotes individuals’ interests in forming and maintaining beliefs that signify their loyalty to important affinity groups. The paper discusses the normative significance of these findings, including the need to develop science communication strategies that shield policy-relevant facts from the influences that turn them into divisive symbols of identity.

To put that in Cowenspeak, both sides are guilty, the smart are guiltiest of them all, and the desire for group loyalty is partially at fault.  Is it possible you have seen these propensities in the economics blogosphere?

Here is a related blog post by Kahan, here is another on how independents do somewhat better than you might think, here is Kahan’s blog.

I would stress the distinction between epistemic process and being more right about the issues at a given point in time.  Even if various groups of individuals are epistemically similar in terms of how they process information, at some point in time some groups still will be more right than others, just as some sports fans, every now and then, are indeed backing the winning teams.  It’s less a sign of virtue than you might think.

For the pointer I thank Jonas Kathage.


Comments for this post are closed