Partisan Politics: Dems and Reps Both Say It's OK For Their Politicians to Lie to Get Elected


What I feel like watching campaign ads

That's what Duke University psychologist Dan Ariely said this morning on NPR's Morning Edition about a survey he recently conducted:

Dan Ariely: We recently did a study on this. We just asked a few hundred people online to what extent they think that their candidates could be dishonest if it promoted their political agenda.

Ari Shapiro: He found that people were totally comfortable with politicians of their own party being dishonest to get elected.

Dan Ariely: By the way, for Democrats this was a slightly more endorsed position than for Republicans. The Democrats were more willing for their politicians to lie to a higher degree than Republicans.

The NPR segment goes on to talk about the pervasiveness of confirmation bias. Ariely's survey backs recent research that argues that human brains are not designed to find out facts, but to persuade people to do what we want them to do. As the New York Times reported:

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we'll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

"Reasoning doesn't have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions," said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. "It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us." Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

I live in a "swing state" so we've been inundated with plain dishonest campaign ads by both Obama and Romney. So far no heavy objects have yet been hurled at the screen, but….

I have been fascinated with research on confirmation bias for a long time. For more background see my columns, Everyone Who Knows What They Are Talking About Agrees With Me, Climate Change and Confirmation Bias, and More Information Confirms What You Already Know.