Intelligence can exacerbate motivated reasoning

April 18, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

At The Intersection (no relation), Chris Mooney points out that Intelligence doesn’t protect us from Motivated reasoning. In fact, intelligence can invite this problem. What is “motivated reasoning”?

In motivated reasoning, memory searches, interpretations of incoming information, evaluations of arguments, and even perception, are biased in such a way that we will be more likely to arrive at a desired conclusion (called a directional motivation . . . ). The way this is achieved, in essence, is by limiting the information that is retrieved from long term memory into current working memory (the store of information that is available for current processing), thereby biasing the information available for supporting or evaluating conclusions and arguments, as well as interpreting incoming information.

Climate-change denial is a good place to observe motivated reasoning in action:

In a 2008 Pew survey, for instance, only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college educated Republicans. In other words, a higher education correlated with an increased likelihood of denying the science on the issue. Meanwhile, among Democrats and independents, more education correlated with greater acceptance of the science . . . Republicans who think they understand the global warming issue best are least concerned about it; and among Republicans and those with higher levels of distrust of science in general, learning more about the issue doesn’t increase one’s concern about it. What’s going on here? [P]olitical sophisticates are prone to be more biased than those who know less about the issues. . . These individuals are just as emotionally driven and biased as the rest of us, but they’re able to generate more and better reasons to explain why they’re right—and so their minds become harder to change.
That may be why the selectively quoted emails of Climategate were so quickly and easily seized upon by partisans as evidence of scandal. Cherry-picking is precisely the sort of behavior you would expect motivated reasoners to engage in to bolster their views


Category: ignorance, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Chris Mooney's title to the above referenced article suggests that reasoning is built for winning argument rather than finding truth.

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