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« Science communication environment; toxic memes; and politically motivated reasoning paradigm | Main | Culture, worldviews, & risk perception (glossary entries) »

You guessed it: some more cultural cognition glossary/whatever entries--affect heuristic & conflict entrepreneurs

For the ever-expanding dictionary/glossary. You can actually get a long way in explaining why some science issues provoke cultural polarization and why others don't by examining these dynamics.

Affect heuristic. Describes the role that visceral feelings play in the formation of public perceptions of risks and related facts. Such feelings, research suggests, are not a product but rather a source of the costs and benefits individuals attribute to a putative risk source (e.g., nuclear power, GM foods, climate change). Such feelings likewise shape public perceptions of expert opinion, the trustworthiness of regulators, and the efficacy of policy interventions, etc. Psychometrically, all of these perceptions are properly viewed as indicators of a latent pro- or con-attitude, which varies continuously in the general population.  The cultural cognition thesis posits that cultural outlooks determine the valence of such feelings, which can be treated as mediating the impact of cultural worldviews on risk perceptions and related facts. [Sources: Slovic et al., Risk Analysis, 24, 311-322 (2004); Peters & Slovic, J. Applied Social Psy., 16, 1427-1453 (1996); Peters, Burraston & Mertz, Risk Analysis, 18, 715-27 (1998); Poortinga & Pidgeon, Risk Analysis, 25, 199-209. Dated added: Jan. 7, 2018.]

Conflict entrepreneurs. Individuals or groups that profit from filling public discourse with antagonistic memes, thereby entangling diverse cultural identities with opposing positions on some science issue. The benefit conflict entrepreneurs derive—greater monetary contributions to the advocacy groups they head, the opportunity to collect speaking fees, remunerative deals for popular books—doesn’t depend on whether their behavior genuinely promotes the cause they purport to be advancing. On the contrary, they profit most in an atmosphere pervaded by cultural recrimination and contempt, one in which democratic convergence on valid science is decidedly unlikely to occur. Their conduct contributes to that state. [Source: Kahan, Scheufele & Jamieson, Oxford Handbook on the Science of Science Communication, Introduction (2017); Kahan, Jamieson et al. J. Risk Res., 20, 1-40 (2017) Cultural Cognition blog, passim. Dated added: Jan. 7, 2018.]



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Reader Comments (7)

Wood & Porter in Slate:

"And what if presenting evidence against the backfire effect itself produced a sort of backfire?"

January 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Jonathan-- I know I owed you a reply/argument. But are able to spell out the position for me; it has lots of movign parts (it is the one in which your main interlocutor was @Joshua, I think )

January 8, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


I think I understand the evidence you accumulated elsewhere that you claim shows that PMR is in S2, but I think that evidence is meager (I think PMR could be a S1 heuristic that can demotivate initiation of S2 reasoning on positive affect: call that the DMS2R hypothesis). I also argue that PMR appears to involve a considerable bit of context insensitivity, often occurring in situations where its social standing maintenance justification is absent - which I take as a clue to its heuristiciness. I think we also seem to agree that when a subject is in the thrall of PMR, they do not consciously realize that they are, which suggests S1.

So, then you (apparently following Stanovich) claim that PMR is rational because of expressive rationality, which is in turn rational because of expressive (aka symbolic) utility. I fail to see this as any more than a hypothesis with no evidential basis. Similarly, one could apparently argue that any behavior is rational by positing a suitable internal utility driving it. Since the consequences of placing PMR in S2 vs. S1 are relevant to your research, I don't think this placement should be glossed over.

January 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Okay, I'll work on a reply. thanks

January 8, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Here's a link to the Guess & Coppock unpublish(ed/able) paper cited in the Slate article above that fails to replicate the very famous (nearly 4000 cites) Lord, Ross & Lepper death penalty backfire result:

January 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

While a casual reading of the literature on partisan information processing would lead one to conclude that backlash
is rampant, we suspect that it is much rarer than commonly supposed.


A reasonable objection to these findings is that while subjects may not polarize when reading relatively sterile descriptions of academic studies, individuals may do so when actually arguing about some proposition with an opponent. Political disputes linger and do not easily resolve when new information comes to light. We speculate that in contentious political environments, in which opposing sides routinely insult the other (or much worse), the introduction of evidence could induce a divergence in attitudes. Perhaps in such antagonistic contexts, individuals become distrustful of counter-attitudinal arguments. We leave the search for backlash effects in such contentious environments to future research.

Well, yeah. Seems to me that when a certain precondition exists, the situation changes - that precondition being that the subject is "identified" on the topic, thus is "motivated" to reason in identify-protective manner.

We speculate that in contentious political environments, in which opposing sides routinely insult the other (or much worse), ...

That, it seems to me to kinda miss a likely direction of causality - that causality being that when people are identified they start insulting each other, not that when people start insulting each other they become identified.

Of course, the authors weren't explicit in that regard...but I see it often where people suggest an explanation for identity-protective behaviors as being where person B becomes polarized on the basis of the rhetoric employed by person A. My guess is that much of the time, person B would be largely indifferent to person A's rhetoric absent their own proclivity towards identification with the subject at hand.

January 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


"Seems to me that when a certain precondition exists, the situation changes..."

There's an interesting footnote in the Lord, Ross & Lepper paper:

Subjects were also asked, at this point, whether they thought the researchers had favored or opposed the death penalty and whether they thought an unbiased consideration should lead one to treat the study as evidence for or against capital punishment. Analyses on the first question showed only that subjects believed the researchers' attitudes to coincide with their stated results. Analyses on the second question proved wholly redundant with those presented for the "convincingness" and "well done" questions.

Which, as I've seen mentioned elsewhere, suggests that maybe backfire only occurs when subjects feel that the counterargument is possibly biased. Maybe there was some (otherwise trivial) difference between the original Lord, Ross & Lepper study and the Guess & Coppock replication attempt that triggered the attitude of potential researcher bias in the first but not the second. Would be interesting to look really closely at the studies for vs. against backfire to try to find some small framing detail that might do this. For instance, I noticed that all of Wood & Porter's counterarguments are framed with "In fact,..." - which might just be the kind of wording that tends to prevent an assessment of researcher bias.

January 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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