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Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing

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« Does "Actively Open Minded Thinking" Aggravate Political Polarization on Climate Change? Looks like it . . . (New paper) | Main | Cultural cognition of weather: a cool (or warm) guest post! »

SCS vs. CRT: Another politically motivated reasoning steel cage match!

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how the   Annberg Public Policy Center/Cultural Cogntion Project “Science Curiosity Scale” (SCS) relates to other measures of open-mindedness.

The Cognitive Reflection Test (Frederick 2005), which assesses the disposition of individuals to consciously and deliberately interrogate their intuitions, is often viewed as such a measure (e.g., Campitelli & Labollita 2010; Pennycook, Cheyne et al. 2013).

One would expect there to be a modest correlation between a measure of open-mindedness and science curiosity, and there is one between CRT and SCS:

But the correlation is only modest: the probability that someone in the top general population decile of CRT—someone who scores a perfect 3—is only 2x as likely as someone who scores zero on CRT to be in the top general population decile of SCS. 

Obviously, the two aren’t measuring the same thing.

This is a picture of the "raw" data for the figure below. Always always consume raw data before exposing yourself to a multivariate analysis--or you could end up bamboozled!They also don’t predict the same style of political information processing.

Despite arguably being the best measure of reflective thinking (Toplak, West & Stanovich 2013), CRT magnifies politically motivated reasoning (Kahan 2013).

That’s why polarization on an issue like human-caused climate change increases as CRT scores go up. As their SCS scores go up, in contrast, individuals don’t become more polarized but rather become more accepting, regardless of their political outlooks.

Here's the regression model for the last figure. If someone shows you only this when reporting his or her data, demand your money back!Indeed, the polarizing influence of science comprehension is suppressed by higher science curiosity as measured by SCS.

As I explained “yesterday,” this is plausibly attributed to the willingness of individuals who are high in science curiosity to expose themselves information that contravenes their political predispositions, something that partisans ordinarily are loath to do and that is not predicted by other dispositions, including CRT, associated with greater science comprehension.

This is one of the findings in the APPC/CCP paper “Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing,” which is forthcoming in Advances in Political Psychology.

There’s no question that the CRT measures an important species of critical reasoning.  I’d experience a degree of shock that even the subjects in the Milgram experiment would have balked at imposing were it to turn out that SCS came within a mile of CRT in predicting resistance to heuristic information processing generally.

But when it comes to predicting resistance to politically biased information processing, SCS picks up on an individual difference in cognition that evades CRT.


Campitelli, G. & Labollita, M. Correlations of cognitive reflection with judgments and choices. Judgment and Decision Making 5, 182-191 (2010).

Frederick, S. Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making. Journal of Economic Perspectives 19, 25-42 (2005).

Kahan, D.M. Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making 8, 407-424 (2013).

Kahan, D.M., Landrum, A.R., Carpenter, K., Helft, L. & Jamieson, K.H. Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing. Advances in Political Psychology  (in press).

Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J.A., Barr, N., Koehler, D.J. & Fugelsang, J.A. Cognitive style and religiosity: The role of conflict detection. Memory & Cognition 42, 1-10 (2013).

Toplak, M.E., West, R.F. & Stanovich, K.E. Assessing miserly information processing: An expansion of the Cognitive Reflection Test. Thinking & Reasoning 20, 147-168 (2014).



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