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How Politics Makes Us Stupid

2014-05-08

Here’s an article about a study that should really give you pause:
http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid
The study shows that our political beliefs actually cause us to suspend our better judgment when it comes to analyzing new information.
In the study, participants were asked to use simple maths to calculate whether the information given supported their political views, or not. Those who were better at maths actually did worse at interpreting the implications of the information given: they were more likely to say that the information supported their political views, even when it didn’t.
So being better informed makes you worse at receiving information that contradicts your precious beliefs.  The author of the study, Dan Kahan, suggests that this is because one’s beliefs are associated with the group that one identifies with.  Changing one’s beliefs (at least publicly) forces one to contradict the other people in one’s group and will cause the group to ostracize the contradicting member.  Since it is usually more important to be in good standing with one’s in-group than to be right about some intellectual issue, the group wins out most of the time.

The in-group effect is more pronounced in people who are better informed and intelligent; apparently these people are also better at conforming to their group.

The findings of this study should make us all pause to be more skeptical of the beliefs we hold most dear.  Next time you see something that contradicts a “truth” that you are invested in, take a close look to make sure that you don’t reject it out of hand.  This makes it all the more important that we closely examine contradictory evidence and try to keep an open mind as much as we can.

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