Are smart people ruining our democracy? What about curious ones? ... You tell me!
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 4:47AM
Dan Kahan

Well, what are your answers?  Extra credit, too, if you can guess what mine are based on the attached slides.

Extra extra credit if you can guess the answers of the Yale psychology students (undergrad) to whom I gave a lecture yesterday.  The lecture featured three CCP studies (as reported in the slides), which were presented in this order:

1. Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Dawson, E.C. & Slovic, P. Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government, Behavioural Public Policy 1, 54-86 (2017). This paper reports experimental results showing that subjects high in numeracy use that aptitude to selectively credit and dismiss complex data depending on whether those data support or challenge their cultural group’s position on disputed empirical claims (e.g., permitting individuals to carry concealed guns in public makes crime rates go up—or down). 

The study illustrates motivated system 2 reasoning (MS2R), a dynamic analyzed in this forum “yesterday.”™

2. 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). Again supportive of MS2R, this study presents observational (survey) data suggesting that individuals high in science comprehension are more likely than individuals of modest comprehension to use that capacity to reinforce beliefs congenial to their membership in identity-defining cultural groups.

3. Kahan, D.M., Landrum, A., Carpenter, K., Helft, L. & Hall Jamieson, K., Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing, Political Psychology 38, 179-199 (2017).  The study reported on in this paper does three things.  First, it walks readers through the development of a science curiosity scale created to predict individual engagement (or lack thereof) with high-quality science documentaries. Second, the it  shows that increases in science curiosity tend to stifle rather than exaggerate partisan differences on societal risk assessments.   Finally, it presents experimental data that suggest science curiosity creates an appetite to expose oneself to novel evidence that runs contrary to one’s political predispositions—an unusual characteristic that could account for the brake that science curiosity applies to cultural polarization.

There were also cameo appearances by two other papers: first, Kahan, D.M., Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem,  Advances in Political Psychology 36, 1-43 (2015), which shows that high science comprehension promotes polarization on some policy-relevant facts (e.g., ones relating to the risks of climate change, gun control, and fracking) but convergence on others (e.g., ones relating to nanotechnology and GM foods).; and second, Kahan, D.M., Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection, Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 407-424 (2013), which uses experimental results to show that individuals high in cognitive reflection are more likely than individuals of modest science comprehension to react in a close-minded way to evidence that a rival group’s members are more open-minded than are members of one’s own group.

So there you go. Now answer the questions! 

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (
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