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Dual Process Theory and the Political Belief Bias Effect

Conference Paper

Dual Process Theory and the Political Belief Bias Effect

Abstract

Cognitive neuroscience methods have contributed greatly to our understanding of distinct fast and slow processing systems useful for higher-level cognition. We believe these dual-processes can help explain why political beliefs can make it difficult for politicians to agree on significant policy decisions. While recent research suggests that people have an immediate and intuitive reaction of skepticism to opposing political views, recent neurocognitive research (Amodio et al. 2007) suggests that liberals appear to have a more flexible cognitive style. We designed a novel political belief bias paradigm to test how logical reasoning interacts with strongly held political heuristics. We predicted that liberals would be well suited to suppressing their political beliefs in order to engage in formal logical reasoning compared to political conservatives. Our findings confirm our hypotheses. We found that conservatives show a much greater belief bias effect than liberals when the content of the problem is political. This effect persists even when controlling for level of political knowledge and fluid intelligence, and is not explained by belief strength. Our results suggest that conservatives may have more difficulty inhibiting their fast political knowledge system in order to employ the slow logical reasoning system in the context of political information. In contrast, liberals may have a more flexible cognitive style, allowing them to engage in analytic reasoning more readily. Future studies will use neuroimaging to examine the time course of processing in liberals and conservatives to determine the mechanism responsible for the observed differences.
Dual Process Theory and the
Political Belief Bias Effect
Makiah R. Nuutinen, Dane G. Wendell, Richard E. Matland, & Robert G. Morrison
Introduction
Decades of research in thinking and reasoning suggests that two competing
systems are frequently engaged to make decisions (Kahneman, 2011).
Dual Process Theory (Evans, 2012) describes a relatively fast, less demanding
system based on prior knowledge and heuristics (type 1) and a slower, more
effortful, deliberative approach based on rational reasoning (type 2).
Using syllogisms researchers have demonstrated situations where prior
knowledge (type 1) can conflict with reason (type 2) resulting in belief bias.
A recent study by Pennycook et al. (2013) demonstrated that individuals with
strong religious beliefs are more likely to show belief bias when solving
syllogisms containing general knowledge that may conflict with prior beliefs.
We explore this finding further and seek to examine how political conservatism,
often associated with cognitive rigidity (Jost & Amodio, 2012), may influence the
type of processing used to solve syllogisms varying in their political content.
Methods
Sampling
900 participants recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk completed an
online survey which asked questions about political ideology and knowledge,
religious belief, and demographics. Participants also completed a brief matrix
reasoning task to assess fluid intelligence.
A randomly chosen subsample of 173 liberals and 118 conservatives
participated in a second survey session where they solved non-political and
political syllogisms.
Example Problems
Procedure
Participants judged the logical validity of 16 randomly ordered syllogistic
statement sets (see examples above). Half of the statement sets were non-
political and half of the statement sets were political.
Political syllogisms were created based on widely held beliefs for conservatives
and liberals.
In conflict trials, the participants’ underlying beliefs make solving the syllogism
correctly more difficult. In contrast, underlying beliefs aid in accurately solving
non-conflict trials.
After the syllogism task, participants independently judged the believability of all
16 syllogism conclusions. Believability ratings were used to sort political
syllogisms into conflict and non-conflict trials for each participant.
Results
Conclusion
Our results confirm that characteristics of respondents, in one case religiosity,
in the other case political conservatism, are associated with cognitive rigidity in
the context of syllogistic reasoning.
Our results suggest that conservatives may have more difficulty inhibiting their
fast political knowledge system in order to employ the slow logical reasoning
system in the context of political information.
In contrast, liberals may have a more flexible cognitive style, allowing them to
engage in analytic reasoning more readily.
Future studies will use neuroimaging to examine the time course of processing
in liberals and conservatives to determine the mechanism responsible for the
observed differences.
The authors would like to thank the Loyola University Chicago Mulcahy and
Provost Fellowship Programs (MRN, RGM) as well as the Arthur J. Schmitt
Fellowship (DW) for their generous support.
Non-Political Syllogisms
Political Syllogisms
Table 2 Regression analysis predicting political belief bias performance
r
p
= .15
p = .02
r
p
= -.03
p = .65
r
p
= .17
p = .005
r
p
= .03
p = .63
All flowers need water.
Roses need water
Therefore, roses are flowers.
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