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« "Science curiosity" and "SCS", plus "Mobility and Stability hypotheses"--latest entries in Cultural Cognition Dictionary/Glossary (Whatever) | Main | Still more entries in "Cultural Cognition Dictionary/Glossary (whatever)" »

Hey-- still *more* entries for Cultural Cognition Dictionary/Glossary/Whatever

You can read all the entries  (all for now, that is) here.

Expressive rationality. Refers to the tendency of individuals to (unconsciously) form beliefs that signify their membership in, and loyalty to, identity-defining affinity groups. Among opposing groups, expressive rationality does not produce convergence but rather political polarization on the best available scientific evidence. Nevertheless, the strongest basis for treating this type of reasoning as rational is that it intensifies rather than dissipates as ordinary members of the public attain greater proficiency in the styles of reasoning essential to science comprehension (e.g., cognitive reflection, science literacy, and numeracy)  [Sources: Kahan, Peters, et al., Nature Climate Change, 2, 732-35 (2012), p. 734.  Kahan, Behavioral & Brain Sci. 40,26-28 (2016); Stanovich, Thinking & Reasoning, 19, 1-26 (2013). Added Dec. 27, 2017.] 

The tragedy of the science communications commons. A normative objection to expressive rationality.  While it is often rational for an individual to engage in this form of reasoning, it is a disaster when all members of a culturally diverse democratic society do so at once: in that case, members of opposing cultural groups are unlikely to converge (or at least converge as soon as they should) on what science has to say about the risks their society faces.  This consequence of expressive rationality, however, does nothing to reduce the psychic incentives that make it rational for any particular member  of the public to form identity-protective rather than truth-convergent forms of information processing. [Source: Kahan, Peters, et al., Nature Climate Change, 2, 732-35, (2012), p. 734,  Added Dec. 27, 2017.]

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Reader Comments (24)


Expressive rationality. Refers to the tendency of individuals to (unconsciously) form beliefs that signify their membership in, and loyalty to, identity-defining affinity groups.

OK - this definition of expressive rationality seems quite different than the one I though I was arguing against. However:

Firstly, it seems to fail to have anything to do with expressiveness. Is forming beliefs expressive? That would be a stretch. And, if so stretched, it fails to fill in the need: which is something to denote the mysterious overt behaviors of identity protectors in non-social contexts.

Secondly, it seems to describe something very close to your definition of identity-protective reasoning. I can't quite tell the difference, actually.

Thirdly, "Nevertheless, the strongest basis for treating this type of reasoning as rational is that it intensifies rather than dissipates as ordinary members of the public attain greater proficiency in the styles of reasoning..." seems very weak as justifications go. If rationality can be acquired by association, can irrationality be similarly acquired? If association is the operative mode of justification here, is it elsewhere? Does this imply (or require) that association is a rational rule of inference?

I thought this would provide the justification for the expression of identity-protective beliefs in contexts where there is no rational expectation of social benefit from that expression.

Note that I have no problem with your rational justification of identity-protective beliefs in socially-beneficial contexts (although I'd love to see evidence of the type that shows that more vs. less socially-motivated [by some external measure] individuals are more vs. less prone to identity-protection).

BTW: am reading The Cognitive Illiberal State - do you have any examples of unambiguous cognitively liberal rules?

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

HI, @Joshua.

I have read your & your interlocutors exchanges in "Stuffers" post & elsewhere. This post wasn't inspired by that discussion or meatn to answer the interesting points you have raised, however. I'll try to supply a more comprehensive respojnse tomorrow.

December 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

It helps me to understand and remember these terms when I understand a bit of the origin story of the term.
Like why did the word "expressive" become paired with "rationality".
Affinity seeking rationality - Affinity Rationality for short seems more rational.
Ditto Affinity seeking motivated reasoning perhaps?

But go ahead and keep "expressive rationality" -- we may be stuck with it -- but please explain the rationality of expressing it what way.
Cool just-so stories always a bonus!

Also, there is the tragedy of the missing hyper-link on "expressive rationality" in the definition of "The tragedy of the science communications commons".

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCortlandt

Dan -

You have seen this, right (I can't remember if you wrote about this or not)?

Similarly, Democrats with high levels of knowledge about science, based on a nine-item index, almost all agree that climate change is mostly due to human activity (93%). By contrast, 49% of Democrats with low science knowledge think this is the case.

But among Republicans, there are no significant differences by science knowledge about the causes of climate change. Put another way, Republicans with high levels of science knowledge are no more likely than those with lower levels of knowledge to think climate change is mostly due to human activity.

Interesting that the one issue where Republicans' beliefs about climate change varies consistently in proportion to science knowledge is where higher science in knowledge is associated with less belief that storms will become more severe.

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


How about the bottom part of that Pew report - which shows that nuclear power is the favorite energy source by both high-knowledge R's and D's. Which tells me two things: high-knowledge R's do factor in concern about the environment (comparing among energy sources for high-knowledge R's), and D's don't inflate their concern about the environment due to high knowledge.

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Notwithstanding that asking about particular effects is not quite the same as asking about the cause of CC, for consistency to Dan's 'Rep / Dem polarization with OSI' result, all the Pew charts for Republicans ought to go down when moving right, i.e. lo to hi science knowledge. Not just the severe storms one. In practice, the slope for Reps in Dan's result is way more modest than the steep one for Dems, especially in the early part of the slope where knowledge dominates the OSI scale (and the Pew result is also based on generic science knowledge). Hence the left-to-right slope could simply be lost in the noise for some results if the error margins are +/- a few points (although the low first Rep bar for droughts seems significant and the wrong way around). The main Pew result for CC seems the most interesting for cultural cognition, i.e. not just the large consistent blue / red difference, but also the steep slope for the latter. Dan's gradients are much more similar when measuring against climate science literacy instead of OSI, i.e. in-domain knowledge polarization is symmetrical.

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West


Among the 17 items on this list (the climate change related link from above is from item #17), some are interesting (albeit , IMO, depressing) w/r/t polarization.

In particular #1:

Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today. Two decades ago, the average partisan differences on these items were only slightly wider than differences by religious attendance or educational attainment, and about as wide as differences across racial lines. Today, the partisan gaps far exceed differences across other key demographics

Seems to me that many issues, of which climate change is a good example, paint a picture of "who you are not what you know"....but what's interesting here is that in some ways, the "who you are" of that statements lacks granular detail.

Part of that granular detail is that the "which ideology do you identify with" part of "who you are" is extremely important, and apparently is getting more and more important in the US.

I happen to believe that we could add to the original statement: Views on issues such as climate change say more about how you identify ideologically than who you are, what you know, what you believe, what policy positions you support, or which values you say you find most important.

December 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

link drop - academics are less concerned about factual democracy than lay folks:

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

A bonus link - climate change AND fake news:

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


December 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Link drop - apparent antivax gender asymmetry:

no non-paywall version available, so I can't tell if they properly adjusted this finding vs. tendency of women vs. men to share/like things via Facebook. I'm guessing they probably took such precautions, because obvious.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

I can't tell if they properly adjusted this finding vs. tendency of women vs. men to share/like things via Facebook.

Gotta link?

December 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


December 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Since I am a chemist, I would assert that chemistry underlies everything. (Unless I am talking to a physicist that is, which implies some sort of hierarchy of identity groups.)

As chemistry, I think that the psychological study of cultural cognition needs to be linked to dopamine gratification. For which there are cultural mechanisms for short term gratification and longer term. Which connect to the complexity of the thought process accessed in various circumstances.

Which brings us to Facebook: Which is an entirely different information/expertise confirming process than that used to acquire a PhD, be an Olympic athlete, be a Confucian scholar, a yoga meditation guru, or a skilled musician. All of which enhance specific brain structures and related chemistry.

Specifically in the case of vaccination mentioned by Jonathan above, I'd point out that two classes of people matter for decision making. Along with several more corporate influences. The general public comes in as voters, who may or may not support research into new and improved vaccines, and public health structures that insure that vaccination programs are accessible and affordable. The central group of people who matter are those that ought to be accessing said vaccines, mainly parents. The medical establishment has great influence on enforcing rules as to which vaccines are given and the schedule upon which they are administered. And Big Pharma has great input on what vaccine development they consider to be profitable and thus worth their effort.

Thus the outcome is that it is way more popular to complain about the lack of vaccines on the part of a few patients of elite pediatricians in places like Marin County California than it is the now increasing again lack of access to any public health services experienced by immigrants and their families as ICE enforcement steps up.

Or the fact that research into vaccines for emerging disease threats, like Zika are woefully underfunded. Especially since that disease is the biggest threat to those in tropical areas without air conditioning or good drainage.

And more popular to complain about lack of measles coverage than the fact that this is a 30 year old vaccine for which we've designed no improvements to reach infants. And that the airborne measles virus demonstrates glaring holes in our microbiological defense systems of hospitals and clinics.

Or if we cared about cervical cancer rates in the coming decade we'd ensure that all women had access to Pap smears. The HPV being only a partial, and very long term, solution to that disease anyhow.

In the case of Jonathan's vaccine communication on Facebook study, I think that we need to realize that given existing public health paradigm, in the here and now, only a very few people actually matter, largely those that are parents of young children. The people that matter from the point of view of influencing actual decision-makers is almost entirely limited to those that actually influence said caregivers. And since being a caregiver of a young child probably does bias female, a largely female Facebook study may have some relevance.

The rest of the vaxx/anti-vaxx battle online is largely just noise.

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Dan - would it be too simplistic to replace "expressive rationality" with "meme"? It's brief, expressive, and instantly understood by everyone at home on the internet. Here is an example actual usage, from the Washington Post:

"....Republicans finally manage to pass tax legislation, which in its final form is expected to be approximately the same length as “War and Peace” in the original Russian but less intelligible to the average American taxpayer. The consensus of expert media commentators is that the legislation will reduce taxes for the middle class, increase taxes for the middle class, stimulate the economy, destroy the economy, make America great again and LITERALLY KILL MILLIONS OF PEOPLE.

Expert media commentators are the reason that much of the American public has decided to get its information on current events from memes....."

P.S. the capitalized phrase is an actual quote from economic studies showing 13 million people who counted on federal subsidies to buy Obamacare policies will stop buying them once they have to pay for them directly

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Cynthia - there will be no Zika vaccine, so what you call underfunding can be marked down to zero for practical purposes. The US market consists of black an brown persons, almost all in the country illegally - the CDC does not track immigration status, but does track demand for its Zika informational posters, leaflets, etc >
> which is almost exclusively for Spanish and Haitian Creole, so you can backtest through that, since presumably legal residents would read English. Costs would be in excess of $1 billion and effectiveness in the field is doubtful. See eg Cuba, where armed police visited every single house to ensure there are no bowls of water under plants or other stagnant pools where mosquitoes might breed. Unlike Haiti and Puerto Rico they have had zero rates of Zika births. I don't know their policy on terminating pregnancies of infected women, so that may have been an additional factor. Finally there is some correlation with dengue (mathematically, I know no chemistry) which might compromise vaccine effectiveness.

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage


"..........Views on issues such as climate change say more about how you identify ideologically than who you are, what you know, what you believe, what policy positions you support, or which values you say you find most important......."

This is beyond satire.

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Gaythia (spelling nannies, take note),

As chemistry, I think that the psychological study of cultural cognition needs to be linked to dopamine gratification.

I agree very much. As an example, I think that much of what drives the motivated-reasoning-a-palooza, otherwise known as blogospheric comment threads, is dopamine gratification.

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

I thought that you were referencing a general pattern that women share/like "things" on Facebook more than men. The reference you supplied seems to be limited to the specific anti-vax context?

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


Oh - sorry for the confusion. I don't have a base-rate measure available. My point was merely that, whatever the base rate is, I hope the Facebook article reports it and takes it into consideration.

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

As per the suggestion that, assuming the Facebook article correctly respects the base rate, the effect can be explained by maternal biochemistry:

Both sides can very well motivate their belief on child-safety concerns. Is it that, perhaps, only the intuitive vaccines-are-an-attack-on-my-child side has access to the biochemical reward? In a more general sense, are some fighting against biochemistry in order to accommodate technology? Or, are those that can accommodate technology (in which I am including the testimonial of domain experts) into such decisions naturally less subject to biochemical motivations?

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

If we wanted to look at it as a pure case of best available science, a case could be made that if a family has access to the best possible medical care, and lives in an area where everybody else is vaccinated, avoiding vaccination is very low risk. And it is a lot less hassle than getting them.

There's more than one way to take advantage of the public commons.

And science informs, it doesn't dictate policy decisions.

The problem with the stereotypical "Marin County" parents is that they are doing this in clusters rather than isolation. They'd also have to avoid crowds. No Disneyland. And even some other non-vaccinating groups, like the Dutch Reformed Church members or even Amish, that seem to be isolated from the rest of society, turn out to be remarkable world travelers.

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis


BTW - am reading some of your and Stanovich's old papers re: expressive rationality now...

My disagreement might merely be that you use rational when I think adaptive is better suited. I think rational implies adaptive, but not vice versa.

However, I'm not sure if I went through your entire thesis and replaced rational with adaptive that the thesis would remain otherwise uncorrupted. Have to think about that more...

January 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan - all the trading bots work on some variant of "adaptive" but their half-life is about 3 weeks.
Other bots learn over time.

"Expressive" means expressive at t=0, that's all that Dan's graphs show. If you introduce time scales you lose the snapshot effect implicit in measuring attitudes - they are expressed as of a specific date. I still think "meme" captures the cultural element best, since the half-life of memes is usually even shorter than that of the trading bots.

The Washington Post article I linked here earlier expresses the Democratic culture at end-2017 perfectly:

"Looking back on 2017 is like waking up after a party where you made some poor decisions, such as drinking tequila squeezed from the underpants of a person you do not really know. (At least you hope it was tequila.)

The next day finds you lying naked in a dumpster in a different state, smeared from head to toe with a mixture of Sriracha sauce and glitter. At first you remember nothing. But then, as your throbbing brain slowly reboots, memories of the night before, disturbing memories, begin creeping into your consciousness. As the full, hideous picture comes into focus, you curl into a ball, whimpering, asking yourself over and over: Did that really happen?

That’s how we here at the Year in Review feel about 2017. It was a year so surreal, so densely populated with strange and alarming events, that you have to seriously consider the possibility that somebody — and when we say “somebody,” we mean “Russia” — was putting LSD in our water supply........"

January 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

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