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Experts & politically motivated reasoning (in domain & out)

The impact of identity-protective cognition & like forms of motivated reasoning on experts, particularly when those experts are making in-domain judgments, is a big open question deserving more research.

Here's a recent study addressing this question:

Eager to know what 14 billion readers of this blog think about it.

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Reader Comments (9)

Nor is motivated reasoning merely an ailment of the less cognitively-gifted. In fact, motivated reasoning may produce greater bias among those higher in both numeracy (Kahan, Peters, Dawson & Slovic, 2013) and cognitive reflection (Kahan, 2013). Motivated reasoning may be an “adaptation suited to promoting the interest that individuals have in conveying their membership in and loyalty to affinity groups central to their personal wellbeing” (Kahan, 2013, p. 418) – and those with greater cognitive skills tend to be “better” at it.


"Cognitively gifted." Seems to me that people often are willing to rather arbitrarily select which cognitive attributes they equate with a uniform label of giftedness. Seems to me that there are a wide variety of cognitive domains where people may be relatively "gifted" - by what measure is there some universal axis that can objectively be used as a criterion? Seems to me that even beyond that problem, our ability to measure relative level of giftedness, among and across cognitive domains, leaves quite a bit to be desired, in a variety of ways.

But beyond all of that, I'm always left wondering when reading statements such as the one above, how the author disambiguates the influence of a tendency towards polarization, as an intrinsic, preexisting (perhaps culturally-influenced) attribute, from the influence of some generic and non-domain specific and dominating-in-terms-of-importance attribute of "greater cognitive skills," to then conclude that indeed, it is those "greater cognitive skills" that "explain" a relatively higher degree of polarization (within a specific set of contexts" - such as climate change).

Once again, I will present my standard caveat for my confusion: I recognize that the people making such statements as the one I excerpted are most certainly smarter and more knowledgeable than I, and so my persisting confusion may well be simply a matter of my not being able to understand dispositive and compelling evidence that has been provided to me (and, of course, perhaps a matter that my own "motivations" help to explain why I'm not terribly convinced by the answers that have been provided).

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

link drop (not international, but still applicable):

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Re: Jonathan's link:

However, the call for putting aside differences for the sake of negotiating policy makes sense only when the opposing sides are able to regard each other as more-or-less rational advocates of competing interests. But when the site of our political division is not interests but rather values, the model of give-and-take deal-making among politically polarized actors breaks down. Those who are deeply divided among fundamental values are likely to be unable to see each other as potential bargaining partners; those who embrace values that oppose our own often appear to us as incapable of bargaining in good faith, and unworthy of our cooperation. What's more, any compromise with the opponents of one's deepest values will likely seem less like a deal and more like a capitulation or even a betrayal of that which is supremely important. In compromising over fundamental values with those who embrace their opposites, we compromise ourselves. And it is not uncommon to think that one's moral integrity is more important than political efficiency. Under conditions of deep moral opposition, sustaining a standoff may be the only honorable, and the only acceptable, option.

I think I take a somewhat parallel view, but one that travels along a different track.

I don't think that Americans are divided by "values" so much as the "positions" that they stake out (and then identify with) in pursuit of their values. For example, people who favor gun control and those who oppose gun control, generally, value life and value freedom and abhor violence and crime, even though they are in strong disagreement about the optimal policies for realizing those values.

So I don't think that the oppositional forces that manifest as polarization are interests vs. values so much as interests versus positions.

Ideally, IMO, one way to mitigate polarization is by getting people to search for and commit to synergistic interests, which are closely related to their shared values. This is a basic tenet of "getting to yes," or "win/win scenarios," of the sort that are targeted in negotiations. One practice towards such an orientation can be seen in stakeholder dialog and participatory democracy (of a sort, perhaps, Dan talks about w/r/t sea rise policy development in Florida).

Indeed, it is unfortunate that people seem to naturally gravitate towards a conceptualization, of the sort described by the authors, that diverging positions (i.e., policy views) are a direct outgrowth of differing values (or differing interests)

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

We're more divided on political issues then ever:

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Sorry - link to first page is:

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I was intrigued by the following example given in the paper.

Yet as Coatsworth (2012) observes, during the Cold War the US government directly or indirectly overthrew at least 24 governments in Latin America alone, replacing them with regimes that during the (post-Stalin) period 1960-1990 produced vastly more political prisoners, political executions, and torture victims than the USSR and its East European satellites.

I've just spent about an hour trying to locate independent confirmation of that observation (Coatesworth doesn't give a specific source, he just says "CIA reports"), and I can't! It's not impossible that it might be true, because the author carefully excludes the Gulag from consideration by cherry-picking dates, but if not even Google can find the data, I'm not sure how ordinary members of the public are expected to be already aware of it!

It's kind of like asking how many lay participants in the climate debate can explain (with equations!) the thermodynamics of the adiabatic lapse rate (which you *can* find on Google!). What does that tell us about the rationality of the general public?

Anyway, I couldn't seem to find any complete list of survey questions they asked, so I can't tell if this is a case of selective question choice or not, although given that example I still suspect it's the most likely explanation. If facts supportive of 'Realist' policies are less obscure than those selected for opposing policies, you'll get a correlation between knowledge and policy preferences. There's not enough data provided to tell, though.

October 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan -

Do you have some links that you'd recommend to help show external validity for using the CRT as a measure of (generalized) cognitive "giftedness" as a function of a (generalized) reflective versus intuitive cognitive profile?

October 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I've got a few links (other than Dan's own papers, which I suspect you've read):
DOI 10.3758/s13421-011-0104-1
DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12136

October 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan


October 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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