Study Shows Smart Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians Are Easiest to Fool

We reason to persuade, not to find truth.

People reason chiefly to persuade others that they are right, not to find out what is true.

So claim Hugo Mercier, a postdoctoral fellow in economics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dan Sperber, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the Central European University, in their provocative 2010 article, “Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory,” in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Now a new study by the Yale Cultural Cognition Project finds that people also use reason to convince themselves, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that they and those on their side are right.

For several years now, the Yale Cultural Cognition Project headed by Dan Kahan has been investigating how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs. The group has issued a fascinating new working paper, “Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study” that seeks to explain the sources of ideological polarization over societal risks like climate change, gun violence, and nuclear power. This new study investigates three competing theories for why this ideological polarization exists.

The study investigates whether polarization over scientific and risk policy issues arises because people are (1) misled by an over-reliance on rules of thumb, (2) subject to distorting cognitive dispositions such as dogmatism, aversion to complexity, and need for closure, or (3) seeking to bolster and protect their sense of social identity. Kahan categorizes the relevant social psychological research theories into (1) the public irrationality thesis; (2) the Republican Brain hypothesis; and (3) the expressive rationality thesis.

One theory of how this polarization arises is what Kahan calls the public irrationality thesis. Nobel-winning economist Daniel Kahnemann argues that humans employ two different cognitive systems to evaluate new information. The first uses fast cognitive efforts such as rules of thumb while the second relies on slower, more effortful systematic reasoning. People adopt many of their cognitive rules of thumb, heuristics that are triggered by emotional reactions to new situations, from groups with whom they share cultural or ideological commitments. This theory implies that when challenged with new information or arguments, it’s just easier for most people to believe what their peers believe. The downside of this knee-jerkism is that there is no tendency for public deliberation to converge on effective public policies to deal with societal risks.

Kahan’s second theory is the Republican brain hypothesis. In this case, the supposed negative correlation between political conservatism with traits of open-mindedness and critical reflection means that conservative cognition asymmetrically relies on fast rules of thumb to make decisions with respect to salience of various societal risks.

Put more simply, this theory asserts that conservatives are less likely than liberals to engage in cognitive reflection and effortful systematic reasoning. Consequently, while liberals evaluate information with the aim of developing useful public policies, fearful, mule-stubborn conservatives will dismiss discomforting scientific facts and spend their time just “standing athwart history yelling stop.”

The third theory investigated in this study is what Kahan calls the expressive rationality thesis. In this case, beliefs about issues like the riskiness of climate change or nuclear power constitute part of what it means for people to belong to specific groups. Shared beliefs form part of their identities. People assess new information so that their conclusions signal their trustworthiness and loyalty to social groups with which they identify and to which they wish to be connected. The upshot is that people go along in order to get along with members of the social groups that they believe will benefit them.

Kahan points out that both the public irrationality thesis and the Republican brain hypothesis claim that ideological polarization arises from over-reliance on cognitive rules of thumb. The case of expressive rationality is different. “If individuals are adept at using high-level, [systematic] modes of information processing, then they ought to be even better at fitting their beliefs to their group identities,” suggests Kahan. In other words, people who have a greater tendency to engage in cognitive reflection will be better able to rationalize their beliefs in the face any contrary evidence. So, if liberals really are more inclined to cognitive reflection and systematic reasoning than conservatives, that would imply that they “are all the more likely to succeed in resisting evidence that challenges the factual premises of their preferred policy positions.”

The Yale researchers set out to test these three hypotheses by surveying 1,600 Americans to determine their political party affiliations and ideological predilections. Participants were asked to put themselves on a scale including Strong Democrat, Democrat, Independent Lean Democrat, Independent, Independent Lean Republican, Republican, and Strong Republican. Next they were asked if the considered themselves Very Liberal, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Very Conservative. Once sorted by partisanship and ideology, the participants completed a Cognitive Reflection Test consisting of three questions that aim to measure their dispositions to engage in higher-level systematic reasoning.

Kahan does not provide the questions in his study, but apparently he used something like the cognitive reflection test devised by Massachusetts Institute of Technology management professor Shane Frederick. That test asks: (1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? (2) If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? (3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake? (Note: Answers below.)

Keep in mind that unlike the public irrationality and expressive rationality theses, the Republican brain hypothesis claims that there is an ideological asymmetry with regard to cognitive reflection. If conservatism is in fact associated with reasoning traits that lead to dogmatism, fear of complexity, and need for closure, conservatives should tend to score lower on Kahan’s cognitive reflection test than would liberals.

Once participants had completed the cognitive reflection test, they were divided into three experimental groups. In the first group, subjects were merely told that “psychologists believe the questions you have just answered measure how reflective and open-minded someone is.” In a second group, subjects were additionally advised that psychologists had determined that people who accept evidence for climate change tend to get more answers correct than those who reject such evidence. This result was characterized by pollsters as implying that those who believe in climate change are more open-minded than are skeptics (skeptics are more close-minded). And the third group was told the opposite; psychological research has found that people who reject evidence for climate change tend to get more answers correct than those who accept such evidence. In this case, the pollsters implied that research suggests that skeptics were more open-minded than believers in climate change (skeptics are more open-minded). Each group was then asked how valid they thought the cognitive reflection test was with regard to assessing open-mindedness.

Recent polling finds that conservatives are more likely to be skeptical about man-made global warming than are liberals. Thus the Republican brain hypothesis would predict that right-wing subjects would be more inclined to see the cognitive reflection test as valid when told it suggests that climate change skeptics are more open-minded. On the flip side, since left-wing subjects are supposed to be more natively reflective, their assessment of the validity of the cognitive reflection test should not differ much between the skeptic is open-minded versus the skeptic is close-minded conditions. The public irrationality thesis predicts that motivated reasoning, i.e., jumping to conclusions congenial to their social groups, will be higher among people who score low on cognitive reflection no matter their ideological biases. Unlike both the public irrationality and the Republican brain hypotheses, the expressive rationality thesis predicts that the higher that both right-wing and left-wing subjects score on cognitive reflection, the more their assessments of the validity of the cognitive reflection test will turn on their prior ideological commitments. The idea is that the ideologically motivated flatter themselves with the belief that people who share their views are more open-minded than those who do not.

So what did Kahan and his colleagues find? It turns out that conservatives and liberals score about equally badly on the cognitive reflection test: 64 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats got all three questions wrong. In fact, the difference between the two groups of partisans is less than the difference in scores associated with education, gender, and race. Recall that the Republican brain hypothesis predicted that cognitive reflection would be negatively correlated with right-wing ideology. “This hypothesis is not confirmed,” concludes Kahan.

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  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Three correct of three, baby! (Actually, it was no challenge. I've always been good at math.)

  • Ron Bailey||

    PHOD: Does this mean that you are especially good at rationalization too?

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    To hear my friends tell it... Yes!
    The problem here being they can't agree about which things.

  • PapayaSF||

    Me too, but the only reason I got the first one right is that I'd heard that one before.

    Good article, by the way, Mr. Bailey.

  • dinkster||

    I haven't looked at the answers but I have a good feeling about my rationalization.

    75.045 are included in the answers.

  • Loki||

    ...62 percent of subjects who got no answers right...

    How the hell? Those were 3 of the easiest questions I've ever seen. Are 62% of people really that stupid? I don't even...

  • Ron Bailey||

    L: Must always remember that the IQs of half of the population are below 100.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    That is unacceptable. We must work tirelessly until everyone is above average!

  • dinkster||

    Force them to be better.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Ron, that's not true either. It's a Bell Curve, remember?

  • Robert||

    Not stupid, they just rush to an answer without thinking. Like the guy in the commercial who answered all the quiz questions "Goodrich", and then lost all his prize money at the end when the question was, "What famous tire company has a blimp?"

  • DarrenM||

    Are 62% of people really that stupid?

    From the article:
    Kahan does not provide the questions in his study, but apparently he used something like the cognitive reflection test devised by Massachusetts Institute of Technology management professor Shane Frederick.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    I got all three answers right. I think I'm going to retire.

  • silent v||

    I got all three right, too. But, to paraphrase Wolf, let's not start fellating each other just yet. RB stated that the study didn't provide the questions they actually used and they might have been something like the three he listed.

  • MOFO.||

    Question #2 assumes a lot.

    "(2) If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?"

    Do all the machines perform the same function? What if 4 of the 5 machines produce a mostly finished widget in 10 seconds and the 5th machine finishes the widget at a rate of 1 per min? If that were the case then you couldnt answer the question without knowing more about the machines themselves.

  • PapayaSF||

    Here we see reasoning in the service of giving the people who designed the experiment a hard time.

  • dinkster||

    Where are the certified union employees to operate the machines? Do their contracts include 100 widgets in a single work day?

  • seguin||

    LOL I said the same thing to myself. A case of insufficient parameters.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The only thing that #2 assumes is that the 100 machines perform the same function in the same time as the five machines, which in the context of the problem is a reasonable assumption.

  • mipaul||

    5 Machines x 5 minutes = 5 Widgets

    100 M x T min = 100 W

    5 min = 5W/5M = 1 widget/machine

    T= 100W/100M = 1 widget/machine = 5 min

    Hurray algebra!

  • hotsy totsy||

    The way I solved it was simpler. 5 machines produce 5 widgets in 5 minutes means each machine takes 5 minutes to produce a widget. Regardless of the number of machines. 100, 1000, 500 or whatever.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Same with the lily pads. If half the pond doubles, it covers the whole lake. Over complicating isn't a sign of intelligence.

  • mipaul||

    So in other words, 1 Widget/Machine = 5 min. We aren't so different, you and I!

  • DarrenM||

    Do all the machines perform the same function?

    Also, what if none of them were working?

  • MOFO.||

    One of the problems with this type of study is it would seem to be biased towards people who give enough of a shit to actually answer this type of question. If someone called me and wanted me to answer some type of puzzle question, id likely just hang up. Others might relish the opportunity to take this sort of quiz. How does this effect the results? How can you even measure how this might effect the results?

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Kahan’s second theory is the Republican brain hypothesis. In this case, the supposed negative correlation between political conservatism with traits of open-mindedness and critical reflection means that conservative cognition asymmetrically relies on fast rules of thumb to make decisions with respect to salience of various societal risks...

    Recall that the Republican brain hypothesis predicted that cognitive reflection would be negatively correlated with right-wing ideology. “This hypothesis is not confirmed,” concludes Kahan.

    Know how I knew the "Republican brain hypothesis" was a load of horse crap?

    Difficult to understand and explain: Capitalism and free markets are the most efficient system, and do the most good for the most people. An ever-changing regulatory environment is bad for business because investors cannot make informed decisions.

    Easy to understand and explain: Tax the rich, and Uncle Sugar will write you a check.

  • PapayaSF||

    That's true. I do think there is something to the "conservatives fear what is new" idea, but that works both ways: liberals can certainly have irrational fears about changing the old and familiar like Social Security, Medicare, welfare, the public school system, etc.

  • Raven Nation||

    Plus, the change meme plays into the progressive mindset that, when something isn't working, we need a new government policy/program/agency to solve the problem.

  • seguin||

    It also lumps in a rational fear of change with an irrational one. I'm very, VERY scared of the kind of change many progressives want...

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Progressive policy ideas were all fully developed by 1900.

    For those people to accuse anyone else of fearing change is laughable.

  • BMFPitt||

    Wait...you think that Republicans understand or desire free markets?

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    No, not really. Maybe it should be called the non-progressive brain hypothesis.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Know how I knew the "Republican brain hypothesis" was a load of horse crap?

    I knew it was a load of crap when I remembered that democrats think trains are cutting edge high tech.

  • hotsy totsy||

    I knew it was a load of crap when I saw the NAME "Republican brain hypothesis".
    Like taking for granted that Republicans must just have abnormal brains, because after all, they continue to disagree with us intellectuals.

  • ||

    Participants were asked to put themselves on a scale including Strong Democrat, Democrat, Independent Lean Democrat, Independent, Independent Lean Republican, Republican, and Strong Republican. Next they were asked if the considered themselves Very Liberal, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Very Conservative.

    Yup this study is fucked.

    I would claim to be independent and very liberal while someone like Tony would also claim to be independent and very liberal.

    And neither of us would believe the other simply because we define both terms differently.

    The results of any study that used such ill defined terms can never tell us anything.

  • PapayaSF||

    You have a point. A better approach would have been to use something like the Nolan Chart to classify people.

  • American||

    The Nolan chart is full of crap. It's purpose as a propaganda tool is to convice "conservatives" that they are "libertarians," though the use of irrelavent issues or vague language, and to convince liberals that thye have something in common with liberatarianism. The questions are usually things like: "The government should stay out of the bedroom." A Santourumite "conservative" will say sure, not thinking of those abonible homosexuals or not considering (justifiably) gay marraige to be a "bedroom" issue. A "liberal" will say absolutely, I can fuck whoever I want, therby creating the idiotic idea the liberals favor personal freedom. The same liberty will not be extended to prostitutes or polygamists or tradtionalist white Americans.

  • dinkster||

    he Nolan chart is full of crap. It's purpose as a propaganda tool is to convice "conservatives" that they are "libertarians," My spacial conceptualization is non existent.

    The Vosem Chart must absolutely blow your mind then, eh?

  • PapayaSF||

    You can quibble about the questions but splitting economic liberty from personal liberty is helpful because libertarians and populists don't fall neatly on a one-dimensional scale. The Nolan chart seems aimed at making that distinction, and thus is aimed at liberals as much as conservatives.

  • American||

    I would split economic from personal liberty. However, if I were designing my own chart, I would have a better foriegn policy question than that of the draft, for example. There would be fewer libertarians and very few "liberals," with most of the latter group in the "comunitarian" collum. The reason is that Liberals don't believe in personal freedom for non-liberals.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "The questions are usually things like: "The government should stay out of the bedroom."...A "liberal" will say absolutely, I can fuck whoever I want, therby creating the idiotic idea the liberals favor personal freedom."

    While at the same time believing that the government should make someone else pay for their birth control, bringing the government back into the bedroom.

  • American||

    If your a libertarian who will define yourself as 'very liberal,' you are an idiot.

  • dinkster||

    No words exist.

  • Calidissident||

    Nice knowledge of history and etymology on display here

  • VG Zaytsev||

    America's self described liberals have been actual socialists for a couple of generations now. So it's hardly surprising that the average American conflates the two terms.

  • Calidissident||

    And we all know American is Mr. Average American, so that's not surprising.

    I agree with your point btw, I said that to American because he loves to portray himself as so intelligent and knowledgeable (especially compared to those dumb Hispanics with their low IQs)

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    "YOU"RE" NOT YOUR!

    goddamn it.

  • The Derider||

    I finished reading the Republican Brain today, and I'm not sure the argument is based on the use of heuristics at all. Instead, the argument seems to be that both conservatives and liberals use motivated reasoning to escape cognitive dissonance. Liberals score highly on "Openness to experience", so when they are presented with arguments that question the value of multiculturalism or equality, they reflexively dismiss it as a psychological defense. Similarly, conservatives, who score very highly on the "conscientiousness" metric, refexively dismiss arguments that hard work and dedication do not lead to economic success, or that other factors do.

    So I don't think giving people a few math problems really tests the theory, because math problems don't challenge the deep-seated beliefs of either conservatives or liberals, and so you wouldn't expect to observe any difference.

  • T o n y||

    math problems don't challenge the deep-seated beliefs of . . . conservatives

    Except the math problems they had in the last election.

  • The Derider||

    Exactly, math problems that had to do with global warming, or the debt, wold have been far more interesting and useful.

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, that way you and shithead could make clear exactly how stupid you are.

  • The Derider||

    I'm saying that you'd expect liberals to be bad at math when that math showed a looming deficit crisis, and expect conservatives to be bad at math when it showed a looming environmental crisis.

  • ||

    How would one go about mathematically demonstrating an environmental crisis?

  • PapayaSF||

    I'm not sure, but I'm sure it involves "hiding the decline."

  • ||

    No, I expect modern liberals to be bad at math, and particularly bad at Austrian economics (rather than wrong economics like Keynesianism).

    Otherwise, they wouldn't be modern liberals any more. Sympathy + empathy + understanding Austrian economics = libertarian.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Austrian economics doesn't have any math.

  • DarrenM||

    From what I understand, Austrian economics does not rely on mathematics as much as Keynsian economics, which makes sense since math is more appropriate to 'aggragates' and makes hiding the inconvenient details easier while given the illusion of 'scientific' accuracy. The reality of human activity does not lend itself to neat mathematical formulas.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    The math problems are there to test which aspect of consciousness the subject is using, or is adept at using. Kanehan's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" describes the research. Jonathan Haidt's book, "The Righteous Mind" goes over the reasons for rationalization and backwards justification, and then goes on to describe the differences in the bases for moral reasoning between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. I cannot recommend these two books highly enough.

  • hotsy totsy||

    I know plenty of liberals who score high on conscientiousness. Openness to experience seems to be a trait of both liberals and libertarians.

    The trait that differs libertarians and liberals is neuroticism. Liberals score high in neuroticism, and libertarians low.

  • effinayright||

    "Openness to experience"?

    Maybe.

    But "learn from experience"?

    Not a chance.

  • Jerryskids||

    So how smart is this Kahan guy? Did his group just prove that everybody but them are idiots or did he just rationalize the findings that way?

  • ||

    "Smart Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians Are Easiest to Fool"

    If you are the most foolish (easiest to fool) how are you smart?

  • ||

    RTFA

  • CLM1227||

    Because Wisdom and "smart" are not the same.

    Most book-smart, well-read, "intelligent" people can be quite foolish because they lack wisdom - probably due to thinking they themselves are god, or from some narcisstic belief that because they are so smart, they can not be fooled.

    In a general society, some the least educated are the wisest. In America? Everyone is a fool.

  • johnl||

    If 40% of people can't solve x + x - 100 = 110 for x, then we're overpaying for education.

  • elfprince13||

    I thought most of the Reason readership already agreed on that point.

  • The Derider||

    In my experience, the difficulty for most people is making a word problem into a mathematical statement, not solving the algebra.

  • ||

    Which is still a problem of education as real-life problems rarely manifest themselves in algebraic form.

    I would venture that the ability of translating a word problem into algebraic form is the more important skill, as the (basic) algebraic manipulation/solution can be looked up in textbooks or on the Net (or one can use Mathematica), but the translation of the problem usually isn't.

  • The Derider||

    I agree with you that it's an important skill, perhaps the most important in math, particularly for math as a life skill.

    It's not as simple as solving an equation with one variable--that was my point.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Don't HAVE to put it in algebraic terms, just don't KNEE JERK answer that $1 is 10 times more than ten cents, so the ball must be 10 cents.

    Just go shopping. If the ball is 10 cents, that means the whatever is $1 more is $1.10. I'd have to pony up $1.20 to get them both.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    Solving x + x - 100 = 110 for x yields x = 105. Maybe you're not as smart as you think you are.

    The correct formula would be (100 + x) + x = 110 or 100 + 2x + 110.
    So therefore 2x = 10 or x = 5.

    But you are correct that we are overpaying for education.

  • ||

    Solving x + x - 100 = 110 for x yields x = 105.

    x + x - 100 = 110
    2x - 100 = 110
    2x = 10
    x = 5

  • ||

    You're right; x + x + 100 = 110 would have been the correct one. My bad (too).

  • dinkster||

    ball + bat = 1.10
    bat = |ball| + 1
    you don't need all the x's and y's and crap, it just makes things obtuse.

  • Voros McCracken||

    2x-100=110
    2x-100+100=110+100
    2x=210
    x=105

  • ||

    The correct formula would be (100 + x) + x = 110 or 100 + 2x + 110.
    So therefore 2x = 10 or x = 5.

    You're overthinking it. Subtract out the buck difference. Leaves 10 cents. Divide in half -- 5 cents!

  • effinayright||

    I posed the ball-bat question to an 11-year-old girl across the street.

    She rolled her eyes this way and that, obviously setting up and solving the equation in her head. She got the right answer in under ten seconds.

    Did I mention that she's a Russian girl?

  • ||

    Actually the equation to solve is x+x+1=1.1

    You must lack opne-mindedness.

  • dinkster||

    You guys keep trying to formalize the word problem and keep skipping step one. Two equations, two variables. At least define x as either being the bat or the ball.

  • The Derider||

    How much would you need to donate to reason for you guys to change the motto to "we reason to persuade, not to find truth"

    Drink.

  • ||

    None: Reason doesn't take stupid requests.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    I got all three correct, but I'd seen similar problems to these in the past, so that did make it easier for me.

  • waaminn||

    Dude that just looks like its gonna be good. Wow

    www.Anon-Hide.tk

  • BMFPitt||

    those who got an average of 1.6 answers right putting them in between the 80th and 90th percentile of the sample

    That's just sad.

    But before we libertarians and independents start patting ourselves on our collective backs for being the better systematic reasoners, could this simply mean that we are especially good at justifying our beliefs to ourselves?

    Spend 5 minutes talking to an anarchocapitalist and it's hard to disagree.

  • ||

    Spend 5 minutes talking to an anarchocapitalist and it's hard to disagree.

    So, you're resistant to evidence contradicting your faulty beliefs?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    "could this simply mean that we are especially good at justifying our beliefs to ourselves?"

    You posit this like it's a bad thing. All belief systems should at the very least be reasonable so the flesh vessel can attain some form of satisfaction for the short time it exists. Being 'especially good' perhaps is the brutally honest search for foggy shards of 'truth'. The battle becomes less about drinking a personally-concocted Koolaid and more about the iterative investment of cognitive reflection which can hypothetically result in better answers- hence your 'especially good at justifying'.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    This is partly true. Haidt goes into this in the first part of "The Righteous Mind."

  • Charm||

    Kahan's cognitive reflection test is basically a math test and Kahan states that he believes people who score higher on his "cognitive reflection" test will be liberal and more open to new ideas. While I am really jazzed to have some science in psychology, the field of psychology has pretty much been taken over by libs in university/college system who are heavily dependent on government/politicians for money. Back to the math test....the article does mention that people are concerned about their peers opinion of them which is great that they are mentioning relationships and interaction, but why a math test? Kazinski was brilliant at math but he was also a terrorist bomber so I'd say he had some relationship problems. I just hope the new brain science were getting doesn't do stupid and eliminate all psychology. Old psychology did very little science and that resulted in a lot of BS.

  • hotsy totsy||

    True about Kazinski. Not really a math test, though. All of the questions in Ron Bailey's test were easily solvable without calculations or minimal calculations.

    What it purported to show was how fast people jumped to conclusions without really reflecting.

  • Westmiller||

    Ouch! Cognitative dissonance!
    Article says "Kahan does not provide the questions in his study ...", but at the end says those are the questions.
    Maybe the author intended to test our reading comprehension?

  • Ron Bailey||

    W: Hmmmm. I believe that I just cited the results that he reported from his cognitive reflection test - whatever the questions were. I provided an example of another such test - not Kahan's actual questions. BTW, the test is supposed to be validated to show an individual's propensity to engage effortful reasoning.

  • ||

    Got all three right. How the fuck do over 60% of R+Ds get NONE of these right? Did mainly morons respond to the survey?

  • hotsy totsy||

    On Facebook there was a thread "What would you do if you won the $500 million Powerball" One young woman replied "I'd pay off the deficit".

    So yeah. I could believe it.

  • Canman||

    I've been following Chris Mooney, with his claims that liberals like him are all open and nuanced with a greater need for cognition ad nauseam. I even read his book, "The Republican Brain".

    Recall that the Republican brain hypothesis predicted that cognitive reflection would be negatively correlated with right-wing ideology. “This hypothesis is not confirmed,” concludes Kahan.

    LOL!

  • Robert||

    What's poscomplexity?

  • Jason S92||

    I believe strongly that cognitive reasoning is impacted by environmental factors such as religion, social groups, and education. The research would indicate that factual evidence gives way to mental predispositions. How else could one ignore climate change or the need for automatic weapon bans?

  • Ron Bailey||

    J: How else can one ignore data on the safety of biotech crops, vaccines, and nuclear power plants?

  • TNelson||

    My favorite quote on the subject:
    "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."- Michael Shemer

  • Ron Bailey||

    TN: Great observation! Thanks for sharing it.

  • BigT||

    Shermer is a skeptic who believes in Global Warming, proving his own hypothesis.

  • Rhino||

    I think Ayn Rand has a better explanation. Everyone, as individuals, have their own value system. Liberals simply don't value liberty as much as they do their own sense of fairness and equality of outcomes (as opposed to equality under the law.)

  • entropy||

    I read the article, and I read the comments, and now I'm done. I quit. You're all on your own. I go to live with the monkeys now.

  • Rhino||

    So there's no way to know whether you're right or you're wrong and you are just really good at convincing yourself that you're right. Kinda destroys any hope of convincing ideological opponents with reason. They'll just convince themselves that YOU'RE the close-minded one and their facts are better.

  • dinkster||

    No one is right or wrong with philosophy, that is why everyone is an expert!

  • Rhino||

    kinda like that Bill Crystal movie coming out where the kids play baseball but no one ever strikes out and they don't keep score. haha

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Actually, there is hope. Read "The Righteous Mind," by Jonathan Haidt.

  • Ron Bailey||

    KM: I wholeheartedly endorse the above recommendation. See also Reason's article by Haidt.

  • Rhino||

    Just got into Atlas Shrugged. Right after they Nationalize the San Sabastion. Is it worth taking a break to read it now?

  • Rhino||

    Thanks. just bought it on Kindle

  • Tommy_Grand||

    "mule-stubborn conservatives"

    Wait, conservatives emulate the mule? Who is the elephant? i always forget.

  • ||

    First of all, I don't see how solving these math problems shows open-mindedness in general. I see how someone less knowledgeable or not careful would use a mental shortcut and get the wrong answer to these problems, but that has nothing to do with doing the same in political thought.

    But I largely agree with the conclusion of the study. Reason is the method by which you defend your ultimately foundationless beliefs. There is no non-trivial belief that springs immaculately from reason, despite what Rand might tell you. That being said, it seems that libertarians are generally better at defending their beliefs reasonably.

  • Rhino||

    It's not the math problems. Its your answers about climate change and, more so, your reaction to the news that your climate change responses are right or wrong that the researchers used to find out whether or not you are close-minded.

  • mdillim||

    The study's final conclusion is erroneous and insulting; that "People skilled at systematic reasoning use that capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth". According to the article, this conclusion was reached because:

    "..the higher either conservatives or liberals scored on the cognitive reflection test the more likely they were to judge the test as valid when its results supposedly confirmed their ideological views about climate change skeptics and vice versa."

    All that can be concluded from this result is that people are more likely to dismiss a test’s validity when they do poorly on it than if they do well on it. This is Psychology 101, people tend to think highly of themselves and like to reaffirm this presupposition. When they are told that a certain test is positively correlated with open-mindedness they will likely judge the validity of that claim by how well they do on the test.

    Cont…

  • mdillim||

    The legitimacy of this conclusion would be easy to prove (or more likely disprove) by offering a simple test where ALL the test takers do well. I think the 'researcher' would find that the majority of all testers in this case would judge the test as valid when 'its results supposedly confirm their ideological views'. This is due to the simple fact that all people like to think of themselves as open-minded.

    To draw the final conclusion without properly setting up the control shows laziness and ignorance. In an odd twist of fate, it appears as if the researcher himself began the study with some ‘pre-conceived ideological views’ and ultimately fooled himself. This might mean he is either 'skilled at systematic reasoning' or that he is dim witted... however, we won't know until a proper study is done.

  • ||

    If you read the article and/or study, you'll see that they did compare the views of those who did well to those who did poorly. If the test allowed everyone to do well, there would be no comparison to make.

  • mdillim||

    I did read the article, but I admit I am going off the articles summary of the study rather than looking up the study myself. However, if the article is properly reporting the means and methods of the study then my original criticism is still valid.

    I think you have missed the point of my previous post, the issue is precisely that they are comparing people who did well on the test with people who did poorly on it. They are asking people who did well on the test if they thought the test was a good indicator of 'open-mindedness'. Then asking the same question to people who did poorly on the test. People like to assume that they are open-minded, so they will respond to that question according to how they feel they did on the test.

    Imagine for instance that I gave you a test that you did poorly on. Then I asked you afterwards whether or not you thought the test was a good measure of general intelligence. What do you think you would be inclined to say? What if you did really well on it? I'm not saying the conclusion drawn from the study is not a possibility. However, it does not appear the study was intended to measure what the researcher finally concludes. Therefore, the conclusion was more presupposition than fact, as the study did not even try to control for all the variables.

  • mdillim||

    My recommendation to test the studies ‘conclusion’ is to give a test where both, skilled systematic reasoners and poor systematic reasoners, do well on. I think when that occurs you will see both groups of people trying to 'fool' themselves into believing they just aced a test that measures 'open-mindedness'.

    There are other variables that may need to be controlled for but without this obvious control the study is at best jumping to conclusions and at worst reaching for results that match author's own suppositions.

  • Ron Bailey||

    M: There was a control group that was simply told that social psychologists had determined that the test was a valid measure of cognitive reflection, period. The goal of the study was not to see if participants per se thought the test valid, but to see if there are differences in scores between people based on political ideology and how their views changed in response to various experimental manipulations.

  • mdillim||

    You are correct, there was a control group and the study was undertaken to gage how participants views would change in response to the manipulation of being told that groups they associate with 'tend to do better on the test'. The control group controlled for this variable, only, by being told that the test was a measure of cognitive reflection, period, and not being told that any 'group' did better on the test. This was a proper control to measure the studies three original hypotheses.
    Now where the study falters, and what I am trying to point out, is this unfounded statement: “People skilled at systematic reasoning use that capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth”. This was not controlled for in the study. Looking back through the article now, it’s hard to discern if this particular statement was actually articulated by the study’s author or if the article’s author took some journalistic liberties in interpreting the study results.

    Cont.

  • mdillim||

    Either way let me try and make my point more clear. Consider two individuals, let’s call them person A and B. Person A finds the test easy and is told that their ‘group’ they associate with tends to do better on the test. Person B struggles with the test and is told that their ‘group’ they associate with tends to do better on the test. Who is MORE likely to rate the test as a good measure of open-mindedness, person A or person B? Obviously person A has more incentive than person B to want to believe that the test has validity. Hence my aversion to the erroneous claim that Person A is ‘just using their systematic reasoning capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth’. A simpler and far more plausible explanation is that person A has more incentive to want the test to be valid, having done well on it AND having been told that his associative group tends to do well on it. Whereas person B doesn’t feel great about their test score but has just been told that their associated group tends to do well on the test. Obviously another control is needed to tease out this additional variable before a valid conclusion about those skilled at systematic reasoning vs. those who were poor at systematic reasoning can be determined.

  • BigT||

    A better test of open-mindedness is to look back on your own life and list those issues on which you changed your mind, or at least significantly modified your position, in response to rational discussions and debates with people who disagree with you.

    If you haven't changed your mind on at least a couple of things you are just a stubborn ass. We all start out with some incorrect/biased positions based on our backgrounds. Those who cannot change have closed minds.

  • Fortran||

    Did you start out with that opinion or did you arrive at it through rational discussion? If the former, you might have to consider the possibility that it is another one of the incorrect/biased opinions you started out with. But if that's the case, you don't start out with any biased opinions, which would make your opinion true once more. But then if it was true...

  • ||

    Half the lake can be covered in lily pads either during the first 47 days or just the last day. So there are two answers to problem #3.

  • Coach Panto||

    If the area doubles daily, at a perfect 2^x rate, and the time it hits 2^48 is midnight at the end of Day 48, then the time it hits 2^47 area is midnight of the end of Day 47. What am I missing?

  • Coach Panto||

    " the higher either conservatives or liberals scored on the (test), the more likely they were to judge the test as valid when its results supposedly confirmed their ideological (views). People skilled at systematic reasoning use that capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth."

    The fallacy here is that no one should appeal to reason for PURELY ideological views, becasue ideological views originate in metaphysical beliefs, not facts.

    Example ideology: Freedom is a natural law. Even though we can observe animals defending property, and people physically claiming thei bodies as sovereign, there is no factual basis in natural law claims.

    So the test should only be claimed as indiciative of factual/logical reasoning ability, not rightness or wrongness of ideology. BTW, I missed #2. Read it too fast. I will do 100 pushups penance.

  • ||

    The study imposes a false choice upon the subjects:

    Next they were asked if the [sic] considered themselves Very Liberal, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Very Conservative. Once sorted by partisanship and ideology...
  • ||

    Let's notice also that the study makes use of a favorite leftwing linguistic trick, namely, using "Liberal" in reference to a set of illiberal political creeds of which some are so radically illiberal that they've produced the fiercest despotisms of written history. "Conservative", too, is a reference to an illiberal creed given the context, and "Moderate" usually means a wishy-washy mishmash of leftwing and rightwing illiberalism. But these remarks about the study's analytically defective definitions are beside the point that the study relied upon a question loaded with artificially limited alternatives.

    So, should the conclusions of the study be relied upon? Or does the study need to be conducted again with the defect eliminated? To answer these questions, we need to know how much and in what ways the study relied upon premises and data that appear to be essential to the integrity of the study. We should also look into the possibility that the subjects, who may have been paid, did not want to risk displeasing investigators by refusing to answer a loaded question of the type that I have found prevalent in studies like these. For example,...

  • ||

    For example, in late 2011 I participated in a study at a large, private, highly-respected university in the midwest. It posed nearly the exact same question about ideology. I was in a tight spot financially at the time, so to avoid being booted out, I replied liberal or very liberal. I don't recall how much I was paid, but it was a good deal more than the cost of transportation to and from the campus. Of course, it pained me to contemplate answering conservative or wishy-washy, i.e. "Moderate".

    We might now ask also if the researchers of the Yale Law study have a few cognitive disorders of their own. (The Cultural Cognition Project is "at Yale Law School".) It's clear to me, at least, they they aren't much interested in reminding people of alternatives to the political ideologies that they sought to impose upon their subjects. Now, why should we expect such an attitude not only among professional psychobabblers and their research assistants but also from people beholden to a law school?

  • ||

    I hasten to join the chorus of other readers of reason who noticed the humorousness of the subtitle, which, IMHO, would make a fine substitute for the lazyminded buzzterm, "FREE MARKETS".

    We reason to persuade, not to find truth.

    This leads naturally to a new slogan,

    FREE MINDS: We [ahem] reason to persuade, not to find truth.
  • ||

    It should suffice to say here, but probably would not, that Reason needs to be reorganized, reprogrammed, and rebooted. In MHO. Of course, the radical reworking of reasoning at Reason bodes ill for reactionaries in control of the editors. But the renaissance sure will be fun for tweaking reluctant moneypeople, who need to renew their support for Reason at levels no less generous than they've been.

    The aforementioned new slogan should be afixed firmly to the reputuations of the founders as a fitting memorial to them. It just so happens, also, that the jocularity of the new slogan is entirely consistent with the rhetoric used by most of the users of the comment system. Should not this phenomenon be further embraced?

    The cover of the printed edition would have only "FREE MINDS". Inside it one would find also the part about why we reason. A click on "FREE MINDS" at the web site would take a person to the page with "We [ahem] reason to persuade, not to find truth." There would be a little more jocularlity to follow before the tone became deadly serious about the mission of Reason, which has little to do with providing a refuge for scribbling sybarites. (Hint hint: Overhead expenses need to be reduced.)

    Of course, the idea of the new slogan and related restructuring is to inspire a fanatical obsession that has been missing thus far from the mentally impoverished subculture of libertarianism.

    But poverty has its cures.

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