Partisans Can’t Count

I’m guessing most readers of Orwell’s 1984 are disturbed when Winston Smith is tortured into believing 2+2=5.  Well most readers, prepare to meet your inner O’Brien, instigator of tortured reasoning:  In this piece Chris Mooney reports on Dan M. Kahan’s recent study which found that when the subject shifts from skin cream to gun control:

…people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs

Participants with superior math skills were even more prone to selecting the wrong answer when the right answer went against their politics. All this being quite consistent with so much recent research revealing that as things get personal our "reasoning" is mostly rationalized self-interest rather than honest truth-seeking… and that so-called smart people are just better at rationalizing their self-interest.

See more on Kahan's work at the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School

See also Marty Kaplan's piece on the Kahan study in Salon, which includes a brief rundown on the work of Brendan Nyhan, whom Kaplan denominates his "go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless."

That should cheer you up…

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