Categories
Current events Motivated reasoning Self improvement US Politics

Motivated Reasoning

Article: “How politics makes us stupid,” By Ezra Klein, for Vox

Article: https://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid

  • About the research of Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale, and the Cultural Cognition Project.
  • Kahan’s theory is called Identity-Protective Cognition: our brains subconsciously work to justify and protect the beliefs that matter to our relationships, group membership, and identity.

Podcast episode: “How our unchecked tribal psychology pollutes politics, science, and just about everything else”, By David McRaney

Summary: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2018/02/26/yanss-122-how-our-unchecked-tribal-psychology-pollutes-politics-science-and-just-about-everything-else/

Transcript: https://youarenotsosmart.com/transcripts/transcript-tribal-psychology/

  • A podcast episode in which McRaney interviews Lilliana Mason and Dan Kahan about motivated reasoning.
  • Basic point: Once an issue becomes politicized, our brains work subconsciously to maintain the beliefs that will preserve our relationships, group belonging, and identity.
  • Related: McRaney’s series on “The Backfire Effect”, episodes 93, 94, 95, and 120.

My personal take: 

  • As noted by both Kahan and Klein, because motivated reasoning occurs outside of our conscious awareness and control, it is difficult to know when one is impacted by it. There is a natural tendency to try to make a special case for the objectivity of oneself or one’s own domain. McRaney, even as he’s describing the phenomenon, demonstrates this behavior when he writes, “In a professional domain like medicine, science, academia, or journalism, people are trained to pursue accuracy, to operate within a framework that helps them overcome other motivations.” He’s right that these domains include a framework that helps achieve greater objectivity, but I don’t believe he adequately acknowledges the degree to which even these “professional” domains can be impacted by motivated reasoning. (At least, not in that specific spot; he may, elsewhere.)
  • McRaney’s “You Are Not So Smart” podcast provides a great education the many ways our brains work against objectivity and reason.

Dan Kahan’s website: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

McRaney’s website: https://youarenotsosmart.com