Motivated System 2 Reasoning (MS2R): a Research Program
Monday, October 16, 2017 at 3:44AM
Dan Kahan

Motivated System 2 Reasoning (MS2R): a Research Program

1. MS2R in general.  “Motivated System 2 Reasoning” (MS2R) refers to the affinity between cultural cognition and conscious, effortful information processing. 

In psychology, “dual process” theories distinguish betweeen two styles of reasoning.  The first, often denoted as “System 1,” is rapid, intuitive, and emotion pervaded. The other—typically denoted as “System 2”—is deliberate, conscious, and analytical. 

The core of an exceedingly successful research program, this conception of dual process reasoning has been shown to explain the prevelance of myriad reasoning biases. From hindsight bias to confirmation bias; from the gamblers fallacy to the sunk-cost fallacy; from probability neglect to the availability effect—all are psotively correlated with over-reliance on heuristic, System 1 reasoning.  By the same token, an ability and dispostition to rely instead on the conscious, effortful style associated with System 2 predicts less vulnerability to these cognitive miscues.

A species of motivated reasoning, cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to selctively seek out and credit evidence in patterns that reflect the perception of risks and other policy-relevant facts associated with membership in their cultural group. Cultural cognition can generate  intense and enduring forms of cultural polarization where such groups subscribe to conflicting positions.

Because in such cases cultural cognition is not a truth-convergent form of information processing, it is perfectly plausible to suspectg that it is just another form of bias driven by overreliance on heuristic, System 1 information processing. 

But this conjecture turns out to be incorrect.

It’s incorrect not because cutlural cognition has no connection to System 1 styles of reasoning among individuals who are accustomed to this form of heuristic information processing. 

Rather it is wrong (demonstrably so) because cultural cognition does not abate as the ability and disposition to use System 2 styles of reasning increase.  On the contrary, those members of the public who are most proficient at System 2 reasoning are the most culturally polarized on societal risks such as the reality of climate change, the efficacy of gun control, the hazards of fracking, the safety of nuclear power generation, etc.

MS2R comprises the the cognitive mechanisms that account for this startling result.

2. First generation MS2R studies. Supported by a National Science Foundation grant (SES-0922714), the existence and dynamics of MS2R were established principally through three studies:

3. Second generation studies.  The studies described above have given rise to multiple additonal studies seeking to probe and extend their results.  Some of these studies include:

3. Secondary sources describing MS2R



Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (
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