Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological experience of having to hold inconsistent ideas in one's head.

The following is from an interview with political scientist Brendan Nyhan on NPR and subsequent article by Shankar Vedantam.  Fascinating.

When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about it, and two-thirds of Democrats say he can't.

But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed. Three-fourths of Democrats said Bush could do something about gas prices and the majority of Republicans said gas prices were outside the president's control.

Partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over facts!

Last time it was Republicans who were against a flip-flopping, out-of-touch elitist from Massachusets and now it's Democrats!

In 2004 Democrats were outraged that Bush was politicizing the September 11 attacks for political gain and now Republicans think Obama is exploiting the killing of bin Laden for the same reason!

When Democrats hear the argument that the president can do something about high gas prices, that produces dissonance because it clashes with the loyalties these voters feel towards Obama. The same thing happens when Republicans hear that Obama cannot be held responsible for gas prices - the information challenges their dislike of the president.

Nyhan hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful. That suggested a possible solution:  If partisans were made to feel better about themselves - if they received a little image and ego boost - could this help them more easily absorb the blow of information that threatens their pre-existing views? Researchers found that when people were feeling good about themselves they were more willing to take in information that challenged their pre-existing views.

This answers so many of my questions about the seeming hypocrisy of everything in politics today - we accept what we want to accept and reject what it painful for us - regardless of the facts!!!!

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