Motivated Reasoning

Young men are often weak, and will seek self medication in narratives.

Aristocracy = Agency = Action (Dominance)
Priesthood = Justification = Inaction (Submission)

–Cognitive strategy–

The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”.[2] This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives”.[3]

Early research on the evaluation and integration of information supported a cognitive approach consistent with Bayesian probability, in which individuals weighted new information using rational calculations.[4] More recent theories endorse cognitive processes as partial explanations of motivated reasoning but have also introduced motivational[5] or affective processes[6] to further illuminate the mechanisms of the bias inherent in cases of motivated reasoning. To further complicate the issue, the first neuro-imaging study designed to test the neural circuitry of individuals engaged in motivated reasoning found that motivated reasoning “was not associated with neural activity in regions previously linked with cold reasoning tasks [Bayesian reasoning] and conscious (explicit) emotion regulation”.[3] This section focuses on two theories that elucidate the mechanisms involved in motivated reasoning. Both theories distinguish between mechanisms present when the individual is trying to reach an accurate conclusion, and those present when the individual has a directional goal.

–Goal-oriented motivated reasoning–

One review of the research develops the following theoretical model to explain the mechanism by which motivated reasoning results in bias.[7] The model is summarized as follows:

Motivation to arrive at a desired conclusion provides a level of arousal, which acts as an initial trigger for the operation of cognitive processes. Historically, motivated reasoning theory identifies that directional goals enhance the accessibility of knowledge structures (memories, information, knowledge) that are consistent with desired conclusions. This theory endorses previous research on accessing information, but adds a procedural component in specifying that the motivation to achieve directional goals will also influence which rules (procedural structures such as inferential rules) and which beliefs are accessed to guide the search for information. In this model the beliefs and rule structures are instrumental in directing which information will be obtained to support the desired conclusion.

In comparison, Milton Lodge and Charles Taber (2000) introduce an empirically supported model in which affect is intricately tied to cognition, and information processing is biased toward support for positions that the individual already holds.

This model has three components:

On-line processing in which when called on to make an evaluation, people instantly draw on stored information which is marked with affect;

Affect is automatically activated along with the cognitive node to which it is tied;[8]

A “heuristic mechanism” for evaluating new information triggers a reflection on “How do I feel?” about this topic. The result of this process results in a bias towards maintaining existing affect, even in the face of other, disconfirming information.

This theory of motivated reasoning is fully developed and tested in Lodge and Taber’s The Rationalizing Voter (2013).[9] Interestingly, David Redlawsk (2002) found that the timing of when disconfirming information was introduced played a role in determining bias. When subjects encountered incongruity during an information search, the automatic assimilation and update process was interrupted. This results in one of two outcomes: subjects may enhance attitude strength in a desire to support existing affect (resulting in degradation in decision quality and potential bias) or, subjects may counter-argue existing beliefs in an attempt to integrate the new data.[10] This second outcome is consistent with the research on how processing occurs when one is tasked with accuracy goals.

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