The analyses I did for my latest paper—on ideology, cognitive reflection, and motivated reasoning—really surprised me in one respect.
They didn’t surprise me altogether. Indeed, they corroborated the hypothesis (one that also was explored in the CCP study of science comprehension & climate change polarization) that people who are more disposed to use System 2 reasoning (conscious, analytical, reflective) are more likely to to selectively credit or discredit evidence in patterns that fit their ideological predispositions. This is contrary to how most people thing heuristic-driven, System 1 reasoning contributes to public confusion and controversy on issues like climate change.
But what did surprise me was the finding that self-identified Independents are more reflective—more disposed to use System 2 rather than System 1 reasoning. I assumed people who were in middle were just less reflective. The difference isn’t huge (and actually, no one, of any particular political orientation or non-orientation demonstrates a high degree of reflection on Shane Frederick's gold-standard CRT test), but it’s there.
It also follows from the analyses that are in the paper that Independents display less motivated reasoning than partisans. Of course, that’s sort of a logical thing; if they don’t have a predisposition, they can’t be fitting their interpretation of evidence to it. But I think there’s more to it than that.
Why am I surprised? My experience in doing studies has caused me to form the impression that people who are “in the middle” on measures of cultural or ideological predispositions are sort of like statistical noise—random, unreliable--& not that important for figuring out what is going on, at least if the signal you get from people w/ a more choate sense of identity is a clear one.
Well, it looks anyway, like the Independents are not simply inert or confused. They are reflective people, engaging information of political significance in a non-ideological way. That’s something to try to figure out, not dismiss. What are they thinking? Who the hell are they?
At this point, I’m not suffering any great intellectual crisis. I suspect if I thoughtfully engage the data a bit more, I’ll discover something that, without necessarily making this finding unimportant, reveals that it it poses no particular problem for the basic hypothesis behind the study (which is that individuals rationally engage information on societal risks in a manner that reflects their interest in forming and maintaining group connections).
But I’m curious. Also a bit excited and anxious; maybe I’m missing something really important.
What I’m going to do for now is think for a bit. Also read and re-read some other things (including John Bullock's great study on need for cognition and partisanship). And try to form some interesting hypotheses about what the “Reflective Independent” datum might mean. Then I’ll see if there is a way to test those hypotheses, at least provisionally, with this data set.
Like I said, I don’t think I’ll find anything here that makes me think I have to adjust my thinking in a major way. But I want to approach this minor nuggest of surprise in a way that wouldn’t obscure the possibility that just beneath it is a deep deposit of information that would liberate me from the intellectually destitute state of unrecognized ignorance.
So to start this inquiry:
Do you have ideas about this little datum? What to make of it; how to explore its signficance?
Fine to tell me, too, if you think this was “obvious” for reason x, y, & z; but do realize that you could have been assigned to one condition in a “many worlds” experimental design that includes another condition in which my doppelgänger has just blogged, “See! Independents are less reflective!,” and in which yours is typing up the response, “Of course, that was obvious!”