A thoughtful person asks:
I’ve come across your work while trying to make sense of climate change denial. I find your analysis very interesting (along with Flynn et al. 1994, Finucane et al. 2007, and McCright and Dunlap 2011) because it offers a compelling explanation for what seems like a curious social dynamic.
However, there’s something I don’t quite follow, and with your kind forbearance I hope I may ask you a question. Your 2007 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies paper sketches out a synthesis of cultural risk perception and identity-protective cognition. From that I was expecting to see how group identity (conservative, Republican) and world vision (hierarchical, individualistic) somehow mutually reinforced each other in the climate change arena. In fact, though, that seems not to be the case. Instead it is the hierarchical and individualistic world vision itself that cognition seeks to protect. Indeed, your regression 4 in Table 2 (p. 483) if anything seems inconsistent with my expectation, since both "Conservative" and "Democrat" are highly significant, whereas if these substantially overlapped with the hierarchical white male dummy (so to speak), the coefficients would have been insignificant. Is your view that Conservative and Democrat are independent (from the white male effect) determinants of views on climate change? The narrative in McCright and Dunlap directly linking climate change skepticism to conservatism appeals to me, but I'm not sure if it's consistent with your own perceptions and/or findings.
Thanks very much, and thanks for your very interesting paper.
This is my response. Anyone want to add anything?
For more info, click on links below; & let me know if you have additional questions or if you have reactions, comments etc.
- Cultural vs. ideological cognition, part 1
- Cultural vs. ideological cognition, part 2
- Cultural vs. ideological cognition, part 3
If I understand correctly, what you’re saying here (and in the links) is that analytically there’s no need to distinguish between latent and observable variables. What matters is explanatory power. That makes sense for a data reduction technique. But it raises another question. Identity-protective cognition seems like a structural concept – a conjecture that people more or less voluntarily process information in such a way as to protect the interests of groups they’re affiliated with. For instance, people who identify with Republicans adopt Rush Limbaugh’s or James Inhofe’s view about climate change because they perceive this to be the Republican worldview. But it’s not clear people are aware of any kinship to others they cluster near in the space of latent variables, in this case those who hold individualistic-hierarchical world views. Yet that seems central to the role you assign to identity-protective cognition in your 2007 paper, e.g., “By supplying a psychological mechanism rooted in individuals' perceptions of their own interests, identity-protective cognition extricates cultural theory from the well-known difficulties that plague functionalist accounts.” (p. 471).
(1) I start w/ the premise that people are divided on issues of policy-relevant science & divided along lines that reflect some sort of group membership. Then I say, "how to explain this? what are the groups? what are the mechanisms?" We see the signature of the groups & have a general sense of their character, but need latent-variable measurement strategies to make our understandings more precise & also to test hypotheses about the mechanisms. So yes, explanation-prediction-prescription is the key criterion; but I don't think any modeling strategy that doesn't try to measure the latent group variable, much less any that is casual about or indifferent to how manifest variables relate to it (e.g., "just toss everying you can think of on the right-hand side of a regression & see what's significant") are likely to generate insight.
(2) I think most people are not very politically partisan & so it isn't satisfying to think of them as having a sense of identity as "republican" or "democrat" that enters conscously or even unconconsciously into informatio processing. They have identies w/ more fine-grained affinity groups; those groups are likely to share values & outlooks -- making those promising indicators of the latent variable. The political orientation variagbles -- party id & lib-con ideology -- are also likely to correlate, even though the affinity groups of nonpartisan people are likely not to be that political. But precisely b/c the groups are not that political, the political orientation variables won't work as well as the cultural worldview variables. It might make sense to combine the poltitical w/ cultural, of course; the question is whether the 2-dimensional chr of the worldview scheme would really scale well w/ the 1-dim left-right ones.
(3) I definitely don't think people "more or less voluntarily process information in such a way as to protect the interests of groups they’re affiliated with." I think that is incoherent, actually; we can't will ourselves to believe things. I also think it is just weird-- not at all an account of how people think or behave -- to imagine they want to advance interests of groups of that sort. Do you know people like that?
(4) I think people can be expected to adopt processes of unconscious information processing that promote their individual interests. It is in the interests of individuals to form perceptions of societal risk that match those of others in their affinity groups -- on whom them depend for material, emotional, and other forms of support. The processes will necessarily operate unconsciously in the main; b/c in the main, all processing is necessarily, inextricably unconscious. Nothing in consciousness wasn't momemts earlier in stream of unconsciuosness & pulled out & projected on to screen of conscious by some *unconscious* cognitive faculty.
Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L.L., Braman, D. & Mandel, G. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change 2, 732-735 (2012).
Kahan, D.M. in Handbook of Risk Theory: Epistemology, Decision Theory, Ethics and Social Implications of Risk. (eds. R. Hillerbrand, P. Sandin, S. Roeser & M. Peterson), pp. 725-760 (Springer London, Limited, 2012).
I don't think we've got to the point of understanding mechanisms and explanations. We're still in the stage of looking for interesting correlations to try to narrow down where to look. I agree based on these results that cultural worldview probably has something to do with it, but I'm not yet convinced of the 'identity protective' mechanism ....
(1) Yes, the correlational data doesn't allow one to see mechanisms. The correlations can be consistent w/ some theories of why we see variance & inconsistent w/ others & thus furnish evidence in that way. But then one should do experiments.
(2) I like to think that in fact we -- at CCP -- have "got to the point of understanding mechanisms," or at least to the point of supplying evidence that can help inform understanding. We've done many many many epxeriments that are animated by the same "identity-proective cognition" theory used in the 2007 paper & that test hypotheses about the discrete mechansims. The idea -- as it always is w/ empirical testing -- is to try to identify phenomena you'd expect to see if the conjecture (here, identity-protective cognition motivated by latent predispositions for whic the cultural worldviews are indicators will influence formation of risk perceptions) were true but not if other, competing conjectures were.
The mechanisms include:
a. cultrually biased search & assimilation. E.g., Kahan, D.M., Braman, D., Slovic, P., Gastil, J. & Cohen, G. Cultural Cognition of the Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology. Nature Nanotechnology 4, 87-91 (2009).
b. cultural source credibility. E.g., Kahan, D., Braman, D., Cohen, G., Gastil, J. & Slovic, P. Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition. Law Human Behav 34, 501-516 (2010).
c. cultural availability effect. E.g., Kahan, D.M., Jenkins-Smith, H. & Braman, D. Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. J. Risk Res. 14, 147-174 (2011).