Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cognitive Bias

From the British Medical Journal, an article entitled "How Cognitive Biases Affect Our Interpretation of Political Messages":
A recent study from the United States randomly allocated one of four versions of an authoritative news story about diabetes to people who had declared different political allegiances.3 Each story was identical except for how they described the cause of diabetes. One said nothing about the cause (the control), whereas the three others cited genes, individual lifestyle choices, and social determinants. They were then asked whether they agreed with two statements on the reason people get diabetes, one specifying social determinants and the other genes. Democrats were most likely to agree that social determinants were a cause, regardless of which version they read. Independents reading the version where social determinants were the cause were more likely to agree with this explanation than those who read the control story, but the social determinants version had no effect on Republicans’ views. Each group was then asked about collective actions to tackle diabetes, such as restrictions on junk food. Democrats reading the social determinants version were significantly more likely than controls to support action but Republicans were less so.
I find the above relevant because just last night I saw a poll on the US TV channel MSNBC that said that most Americans call themselves “conservatives” but 87% think that taxes should be raised on millionaires, 77% thought public servants should have the right to collective bargaining, etc. In other words, by wide margins they take “liberal” views that are left of even most of the Democratic party representatives in Congress. But they keep electing Republicans and Democrats are terrified of taking populist or liberal stands on political issues.

Wow... believe one thing but vote another way. And not even notice the dissonance between what you believe and the messages you show loyalty to. That sums up the Tea Party and a lot of other political "activists" in the US. It is tragic because it means their politics ends up disappointing them and they can't figure out what went wrong! Tragic.

Learn more about cognitive biases at Wikipedia.

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