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Thursday
Oct082015

New paper: Expressive rationality & misperception of facts

A comment on Lee Jussim's Social Perception and Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Oxford 2012).

Abstract

This comment uses the dynamic of identity-protective cognition to pose a friendly challenge to Jussim (2012). The friendly part consists of an examination of how this form of information processing, like many of the ones Jussim describes, has been mischaracterized in the decision science literature as a “cognitive bias”: in fact, identity-protective cognition is a mode of engaging information rationally suited to the ends of the agents who display it. The challenging part is the manifest inaccuracy of the perceptions that identity-protective cognition generates. At least some of the missteps induced by the “bounded rationality” paradigm in decision science reflect its mistaken assumption that the only thing people use their reasoning for is to form accurate beliefs. Jussim’s critique of the bounded-rationality paradigm, the comment suggests, appears to rest on the same mistaken equation of rational information processing with perceptual accuracy.

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Reader Comments (6)

At least the NRA has been listening:
"The N.R.A.’s ability to mobilize is a classic example of what the advertising guru David Ogilvy called the power of one “big idea.” Beginning in the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. relentlessly promoted the view that the right to own a gun is sacrosanct. Playing on fear of rising crime rates and distrust of government, it transformed the terms of the debate. As Ladd Everitt, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told me, “Gun-control people were rattling off public-health statistics to make their case, while the N.R.A. was connecting gun rights to core American values like individualism and personal liberty.” "
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/19/taking-on-the-n-r-a

I think that it is not exactly true that "identity protective cognition" is only about an individual's identity. In helping a collective tribe achieve goals, the tribe enhances the ability of an individual within it to protect their own goals. The "rugged individualism" of gun ownership probably spills over into riding your ATV at will through the forest, or allowing your dairy cows to pollute a stream or digging up a coal mine. And, of course like the NRA above, outside political agents can drive tribes to support issues in ways that they might not have otherwise, had they not be cleverly couched in identity protective terms.

It isn't just about how individuals use reason individually to protect their group identities, it can be about how clever politicians become leaders by exploiting individuals identity protective reasoning to create support for their version of a new rendition of the tribe.

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"Beginning in the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. relentlessly promoted the view that the right to own a gun is sacrosanct."

Is that a typo for the seventeen-nineties? I thought it became sacrosanct with the passing of the second amendment in 1791?

" And, of course like the NRA above, outside political agents can drive tribes to support issues in ways that they might not have otherwise, had they not be cleverly couched in identity protective terms."

This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question. How was the issue initially perceived as representative of an identity - for it to be able to trigger identity-protective cognition - if the people of that identity did not initially support it and were only made to do so by these mysterious 'outside agents'? (Although that sounds a bit 'Conspiracy Theory' to me, I expect you know who you mean...)

What I mean is, surely identity protection can only work as a feedback to magnify a *pre-existing* association of the issue with the identity? It can't be used to create the association.

It seems to me there's an obvious logical relationship between the right to bear arms, say, and the associated political ideology that exists prior to and independent of its identification with political tribes. Liberals (in the classic sense) demand the right to self-defence because they don't trust governments, and seek an additional protection against tyranny. Whereas Authoritarians want all the weapons to be in the hands of the authorities and for the people to be disarmed, precisely so that the population *cannot* resist their 'benevolent tyranny'. (Try suggesting to them that we start implementing gun control by disarming the authorities first, and move on to the people once we've seen how well that works out...)

Thus, the issue is identified with the tribes initially for a logical reason, and thereby becomes identified with the tribe. Only then does it become a matter of tribal passions: authoritarians passionately for gun control because that what their tribe believes, and liberals passionately against it. No outside agents are required - insiders are entirely sufficient to explain it.

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

You might like this one, Dan.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/upshot/tom-brady-and-political-beliefs-it-depends-what-team-youre-on.html?smid=nytcore-iphone-share&smprod=nytcore-iphone&_r=0

October 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I think that there is considerable evidence that leaders can foster a storyline that ties into tribal identities, expands upon some aspect of that and sends it off in new directions expanding their power base. In the case of guns, attitudes were following the script of a western movie. First you have the wilderness, in which guns seem essential for both hunting and defense. Then you have the wild west, in which towns that are mostly saloons host cattle drivers and others that are mostly trouble. Then as towns expand and include shops catering to settled farm families, those people have enough of the shootout nonsense and hire a sheriff. The sheriff rides in, cleans out the whole damn town. The troublemakers are even sent before a judge before hanging. Civilized society ensues. And people stop carrying guns and live happily ever after. Then you launch the post script: There is a small minority of people, especially in rural areas, that have kept guns, mostly for hunting. There is a gun organization, the NRA which is mostly about training kids and others to use guns safely. There is a natural antipathy between these rural folks and those in towns. Those in towns think deer are there to be cute, like Bambi and have all sorts of other highfalutin ways. The NRA membership list then becomes a means of founding a political movement, the import of which, in motivating votes for candidates, goes well beyond gun control. Politics has a lot to do with getting your candidate to be identified with a base that will vote for that candidate. Those funding said candidate may have other objectives in mind. Thus the ending result is a bunch of rural folk voting for supporters of Wall Street. And Wall Street is obviously located in New York City. Hardly the favorite place of the rural folks.

October 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

In the October 9th issue of Science magazine there is an article that serves as an interesting old case study of cognative bias: Beyond the "Mendel - Fisher "controversy". This discusses the role of Medel's too good to be true, improbable data in our understanding of the genetic foundations of biology, with cold war politics thrown in for good measure: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/350/6257/159. Only slowly have scientists willing to discuss more fully genetics in a developmental context. Even though the idea that the effect of the same bit of chromosome can be different depending on hereditary background and environmental conditions was introduced by Weldon in the very early 1900's. And statistician and geneticist Ronald Fisher analyzed Medels data in the 1930's and determined Medel's experiments to be a "carefully planned demonstration of his conclusions". Under pressure from the Marxist genetics of the Russians including Trofim Lysenko, discussions regarding genetics in the West got "locked in".

I think this is highly relevant to the current battles against the forces of "anti-science" on various topics. The defensive manner in which scientists respond, essentially tribe of science against an identified tribe of extremists, often diminishes opportunity for broader and more scientifically based discourse.

But on the flip side, major scientific breakthroughs often ensue from individual scientists who set up experiments with specific objectives in mind. Which, as I see it, is why there needs to be an interdisciplinary broadening of scientific evaluations such that peer review is conducted in a broader context.

October 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"In the case of guns, attitudes were following the script of a western movie."

Is this supposed to be the history or the politically-motivated script written in place of the history?

The history was that the English tried to enforce a tyranny of exploitation and arbitrary exercise of state power, and tried to enable its continuation by making sure they had all the guns and the citizens didn't. Post-independence, the founders held that the best defence against tyranny was that power should not all be concentrated in the hands of authority, with citizens utterly dependent on them for defence and survival, but that the responsibility and power should be distributed and shared by all the citizens. They wrote it into the constitution where it couldn't be easily repealed so that it would be difficult for any future prospective tyranny to regain the same concentration of power.

"Then as towns expand and include shops catering to settled farm families, those people have enough of the shootout nonsense and hire a sheriff. The sheriff rides in, cleans out the whole damn town."

With what? A dustpan and brush? Or a gun?

The point is, in both pictures of the world it's guns in the hands of the good guys that stops the bad guys shooting people. The only argument is over who counts as one of the good guys you would trust with a gun.

"Civilized society ensues. And people stop carrying guns and live happily ever after."

If only! As I understand it, you do still have shootouts?

The war on drugs feeds an organised crime conflict in which all the criminals still have and use guns. And nowadays the sheriffs get into trouble if they shoot the wrong sort of criminals. I'm told a lot of people feel nervous about that and would like the ability to put up a defence themselves.

" Thus the ending result is a bunch of rural folk voting for supporters of Wall Street. And Wall Street is obviously located in New York City."

Ah! Right! I see where you're going with this now. You don't see an obvious connection between gun rights for farmers purely for hunting and Wall Street capitalism, and you figure the NRA must have leveraged rural folks love for guns into an unnatural support for big business based in the cities. I understand.

However, I do think there is a connection. The difference between farms and cities, I think, lies in the degree of interdependence between individuals. In the country, people value independence, self-reliance, and respect for ownership and earning your own way. They can be more territorial, their interactions with others are more remote but more personal, and they are forced to do a lot of things for themselves. In cities, people value cooperation and 'fitting in' with their neighbours because they are living right on top of one another. A lot of the facilities they use are shared, so they have to be more tolerant of intrusions and conflicting requirements. Interactions are more impersonal, and mostly with strangers. And they tend to be small cogs in a very big machine, only able to do a very narrow range of tasks themselves and utterly reliant on the rest of society for the rest of their needs.

It results in a different mindset, which also explains why rural areas tend towards small government, free markets, and the independent entrepreneur making their fortune without government interference, and cities tend towards socialism, obedience to authority and the dictates of society, social control, big government regulation, and the provision of life's requirements by society to the needy. It is this difference in mindset that explains the common support/rejection for both guns and trade. It is about what we fear. The farmer fears interfering outsiders invading and taking their land and livelihood. The city dweller fears society rejecting them and withdrawing its support. The farmer relies on their neighbours for mutual protection and fears the distant stranger. The city dweller fears their neighbours and trusts the distant stranger for protection. Cities are necessarily more authoritarian - the population density requires it if there is to be peace between neighbours.

The picture above is exaggerated, of course. It's just a slight tendency in that direction.

What farmers and corporate leaders have in common is ownership of the means of production, and the means of their own independent survival, which they'd both naturally like to keep. Common interests lead to common causes.

--

"I think this is highly relevant to the current battles against the forces of "anti-science" on various topics. The defensive manner in which scientists respond, essentially tribe of science against an identified tribe of extremists, often diminishes opportunity for broader and more scientifically based discourse."

Agreed!

And the overly aggressive and hostile tribal attitudes of many of the critics makes the professional scientists even more defensive, preventing the sort of dialogue and respect for their views the critics want. It goes both ways.

October 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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