Saturday, June 08, 2013

Motivated reasoning can be re-motivated

After previously snarking at Dan Kahan's snarking, I thought I'd poke around his website's blog a bit more to see what I can learn. Still thinking about it, but there are some useful points.

One that he makes in about every third blog post is that a person's benefit in sticking with the beliefs of one's tribe on communal issues like climate change often exceed the costs to that person of that person being wrong. It's a collective action problem where an individual pointing out that one's tribe is making a huge mistake just causes friction. The individual has a disincentive from even seriously considering whether her tribe is wrong.

The ironic part about this is that I think it makes sense on an intuitive level, but I don't recall Kahan citing evidence that proves it to be true (you can speculate that it explains studies of motivated reasoning, but that doesn't prove the theory). His emphasis on the science of science communication doesn't always follow in practice.

Wonkbook reports a related take on motivated reasoning, which found that partisans severely reduced their motivated reasoning when given a personal incentive to do so. Wonkbook refers to this proving that partisans are just "liars" but I think the psychology might be a little more subtle than that. Kahan's take might be that the cost analysis of thinking for one's self v. believing what the tribe believes is adjusted in the experiment.

Anyway, makes sense to me. I think it might also feed into my pet theory that climate adaptation might be the road to acceptance for climate science, because it's more directly about self-interest.


Victor Venema said...

"... a person's benefit in sticking with the beliefs of one's tribe on communal issues like climate change often exceed the costs to that person of that person being wrong."

If I may add a personal hypothesis to this, it would be that the conservative mind may be more prone to this.

It might be because such occasions are more salient, but I tend to think that I have the opposite tendency, to prefer opinions that are not popular in my circles, as long as they are still tenable.

That is likely one of the reasons, I became a scientist. There is nothing more beautiful as building the consensus of tomorrow, much better as just parroting other peoples opinions.

A nice anecdote is that I met with quite a lot of opposition, when I recommended my colleagues to use Google. Why would anyone need another search engine? Alta Vista was working fine.

Sou said...

Motivated reasoning is more to do with your own world view. I understood it to be more to do with finding reasons to accept or reject facts based on how important it is to your world view that those facts be correct or not.

The issue of not disagreeing with the tribe - that could be for a lot of different reasons. A basic one is how important or otherwise the 'fact' is to either you or the integrity of the group as a whole. Sometimes it's a matter of it not being worth it to speak up.

A good example earlier this week on WUWT. There was a spate of utterly ridiculous articles and I mean much more nonsensical than normal. One was that earth will be colder than the coldest year in the Little Ice Age in only seven years time. Another was that it's not humans causing CO2 to rise, it's insects. And another was that the Greenland ice sheet is less than 650 years old because vikings lived in Greenland.

The first two passed muster and even garnered a lot of praise. But the Greenland one, well the fake skeptics complained about that one and eventually it was removed from WUWT.

Why did the tribe pick on that one not the others? They were all equally silly. One thing might have been that somewhere inside every fake skeptic is a viking trying to prove that Greenland was green. So they figure they have to defend it.

Another might be that they just decided that particular article would be sufficient to prove to 'alarmists' that they aren't always complete idiots. There was no need to remove the others. A symbolic gesture to common sense, if you like.

I'm not convinced that conservatives are more prone to value the group than liberals. Liberals as individuals are more fluid. less rigid in their thinking I suppose. But when it comes to group behaviour under stress, is there is that much difference between them?

It's a shame because I think the result is that people feel less free to explore ideas for fear the 'other side' will take advantage and see differences as a weakness.

When it comes to defending your tribe from outside attacks politics don't matter. The tribe will come together, differences between group members will be put to one side for the sake of defending the group. On climate blogs you see that kind of group defense from people who understand science as well as those who reject it.

Sou said...

To add, I'm assuming we're not talking about the extremists here. The bottom 8% dismissives, right wing authoritarians or however they be labelled are different from normal liberal vs conservative. They are in a world of their own. Logic doesn't apply and group think is everything.

A bit like paranoid conspiracy theorists all tolerating each others conspiracies, including all the contradictory ones.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could take a note from the Mesopotamians and advance civilization without worrying about how warm it might be.

David B. Benson said...

And suffer the same fate as Ur III.

Gator said...

Bob Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians" provides a good perspective on this. He's done studies about personality and behavior that help characterize and describe the tendency for some to support the status quo. It's not so much right vs. left (in Soviet Russia the "left" was the status quo) but group vs. individual, and what is vs. what could be, conservative vs. innovative.

Brian said...

On an individual level, we need to self-identify not as part of the liberal or conservative tribe but as truth-seekers. Not sure how that plays out though in the field of climate communication.

Maybe it's part of the long game of how we try to teach children to think, hopefully it'll seem more attractive to a lot of them than just groupthink.

willard said...

Somehow related:

> To develop a strategy for philanthropy to strengthen climate engagement, I interviewed over 40 climate advocates,more than a dozen representatives from the foundation community, and a dozen academics. My assessment led me to conclude that climate advocates have focused too narrowly on specific policy goals and insufficiently on influencing the larger political landscape. I suggest four ways to improve climate advocacy: Increase focus on medium and longer-term goals; 2) Start with people and not carbon; 3) Focus more on values and less on science; and 4) Evaluate what works and share what we learn.

Interestingly, I got that from Don Don, a commenter who's now trolling at Bart's.


This is basically what I learned from George Marshall's capsule:

Interestingly, I found out about Marshall at Dan's, who might not follow these advices as often as he should, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

There's also the issue of non-experts attempting to reason in an area outside their comfort zone: