As cognitive dissonance theory would predict, people tend to avoid information that is dissonant with their current beliefs and seek consonant information …, especially when they are already committed to a particular position … and/or the information is self-relevant. [Citations in original] *
There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views.
If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t.
This is known as ‘motivated reasoning.’
Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs.
This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.
At the very extreme we won’t allow ourselves to be exposed, in the first place, to information that contradicts.
These well-established findings are not restricted to those on the Right. Human nature has no political affiliations. But how progressives and conservatives approach new information is clearly different.
For a political ideology premised in large part on fear of change, avoidance of ambiguities, and more inclined to support and defend the status quo, it’s not too much of a stretch to understand that preserving the known is the gold standard. Witness the strong opposition to cultural changes in recent years [same-sex marriage, etc]; the limited government/free market championing long a hallmark of the GOP; rabid support for their overly-broad interpretation of the Second Amendment; the contortions required to be so thoroughly dismissive of the scientific evidence of climate change and the production facts and challenges of continued reliance on fossil fuels, along with a host of other measures ardently opposed by conservatives.
As I’ve noted repeatedly, the opposition to even acknowledging—much less addressing—climate change or considering the factors of oil production manifests itself in a variety of ways: facts are cherry-picked; low information supporters are fed a steady diet of qualifiers; unsubstantiated statements are offered as absolute conclusions; ad hominem attacks are routine; scientific and on-the-ground evidence inconsistent with “just and fair” are dismissed if they are even considered to begin with. These tactics are all buttressed by an unstinting faith that things will just work themselves out….Facts and reality are not so easily impressed.
Few if any exhibit any inclination to challenge the beliefs and values of conservative ideology, nor are they willing to move beyond their bubble of informational sources to even consider that those of us with different perspectives might actually have legitimate concerns, considerations, and evidence to support our desire to engage in meaningful conversations before challenges turn into unresolvable problems.
When combined with their need to justify the current system—notably the free market system with its rewards and consequences and the corresponding trust that outcomes, whatever they may be, are just and fair [another timesaver if you just accept that premise going in rather than analyzing if “just & fair” is true]—we have a set of building blocks which create strong aversion to consideration of any factors which might suggest the just and fair system is neither just nor fair.
But rectifying that means change, and well … change is verboten.
Our political, ideological, partisan, and religious convictions — because they are deeply held enough to comprise core parts of our personal identities, and because they link us to the groups that bulwark those identities and give us meaning — can be key drivers of motivated reasoning.
They can make us virtually impervious to facts, logic, and reason.
Every issue we’re contending with on the national stage has some connection to dozens of other problems and issues and concerns and shortcomings. That makes fashioning acceptable solutions just a wee bit complicated, what with the tens of millions of opinions floating around and the urgency felt by just about each and every one of us that our unique set of problems must have priority over everyone else’s. Not exactly a recipe for prompt and satisfactory success. And when you add to this mix the clear strategy exhibited by some of our “leaders” that denying, ignoring, misrepresenting, or pretending is the best approach, then we really have our work cut out for us!
Trouble is … denial, postponement, procrastination, and simply ignoring reality will only take us so far.
It’s where we wind up after that which deserves more attention.
* Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2011 American Psychological Association 2012, Vol. 102, No. 2, 264–280 0022-3514/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0026272 On the Perpetuation of Ignorance: System Dependence, System Justification, and the Motivated Avoidance of Sociopolitical Information by Steven Shepherd Aaron C. Kay University of Waterloo Duke University
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We face a choice going forward. There’s a kind of false dichotomy, a false choice that we’re being presented between policies on the left or policies on the right. It’s not left or right, it’s forward or backward. It’s a choice between investing in the future, leaving a better future for the next generation just like parents and grandparents did for us, or ignoring these hard choices and sentencing the next generation to a lower standard of living, to fewer opportunities, and a future that we could do better by. Former USDOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari
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