Scientists Point to ‘Motivated Reasoning’ As Culprit Behind ‘Conspiracist Thinking’

Don’t worry: I’m sure they’ll have a pill to treat your “motivated reasoning” disorder soon.

Via Scientific American:

Like many in the USA, especially perhaps those of us not allowed to go to work right now or with reason to feel anxious about the future, I’m particularly pre-occupied by these issues at the moment, and the various impediments to clear, community-spirited thinking.

And then researchers serendipitously dropped another relevant study on cognitive bias into the literature. Lewandowsky, Gignac and Oberauer conducted a study of people in the USA. It’s here in PLOS One.

They discuss a way that science communication processes can sometimes backfire. When the views of people seen as experts converge on an issue, it has a strong influence on other people’s thinking. So generally, a strong scientific consensus can be convincing to many others, too. Climate science is an example where growing consensus among scientists reduced the influence of climate change denial.

However, in people who are prone to conspiracist thinking, strong consensus around science can have the reverse effect: it can be seen as evidence that they’re all in cahoots. As happens for some people with vaccination, say. Presenting yet more facts or another study could paradoxically confirm their rejection of science.

The study’s authors describe conspiracist thinking as a cognitive style that doesn’t have to conform to expectations of coherence or consistency: its “explanatory reach” is therefore greater than competing scientific theories. Yet, it can also provide an explanation of why a consensus is wrong.

Keep reading.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    Nice counterintel propaganda, Matt.

    Or should I call you “Sgt. Staggs”? . . . .

    Not because I believe you’re a covert NSA agent, but because it’d be a great handle to springboard you into the WWF. They need a conspiracy-themed wrassler to round out the stable.

    • Matt Staggs

      Funny you say that: Sgt. Slaughter actually had a booth at New York Comic Con. I’ll try to dig up the picture I snapped (from a safe distance.)

  • Simon Valentine

    motivation? i’m sorry, that is an illegal currency; please visit your local court house to pay the fine of which we are paid to require ourselves to fine you as well as to inform you of all this including the notion that 3% of all such fines go towards researching motivated reasoning. our motivation for doing so is irrelevant in spirit of equality, considering we’re also saying that your motivation is irrelevant. we just want to widen a gap. we can’t expand the debt ceiling so we’re blowing out the walls. go put your greek indentured servant garments on. when you come back we’ll have more to say.

    *dressed*

    we regret to inform you that the rates have all gone up so we’re cutting corners and raising the fine by 40%. oh and we need to create jobs so researching is getting 4% now so you should apply. don’t ask us why the rates went up or you’ll be tried for obstruction of justice, infringement of property, and nuisance.

    *applies*

    “why does the form ask me if i’m eager to research motivation?”

    “it’s called MORALE, stupid”

    “thank you ‘nazi commando’!”

    “no actually they were smarter than me, i’ll just threaten you until you outsmart me, it helps drives research. besides, i’m a fancy scientist, i’m like a roman upgrade away from your greek master, slave! walk away and pretend you outsmarted me!”

  • BuzzCoastin

    interesting that Min of Truth
    has been spinning conspiracy theory recently
    usually as a mental illness
    someone must be feeling the heat of a smoking gun

  • Haystack

    I like this bit from the final paragraph:

    “When people have an organized explanatory narrative, they may need a complete functional narrative to replace it, not just isolated bits of information that break the internal logic.”

    When I went from being a Biblical literalist to an atheist, it wasn’t because of any of the various pieces of contradictory evidence that were presented to me–it’s too easy to counter a talking point with talking point. It was just from reading non-polemic books on science and history that touched on things like the cultural origins of religious beliefs. The narratives they presented were so elegant and logical, devoid of all the convoluted special pleading and conspiratorial thinking that I was getting from the Christian fundamentalists. After a while, I found that I just didn’t buy it anymore.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do

      I found that once I began to explore outside the linear spectrum of biblical literalism to atheism I found there were many other philosophies and schools of thought. Many of which looked at issues in life and existence with much more depth, rational discourse and imagination.

    • Juan

      Glad you made it out:)

  • believein1

    Typical simple headed reasoning. Existence is not simple. The further into simplicity you get, the more complicated it gets. Cells, quantum mechanics, DNA…simple thinking is for simple headed people that want to feel like they’ve conquered a subject.

  • Juan

    Didn’t the Soviets have a thing for throwing dissidents I mental hospitals. “You dare question the reality we went to all this trouble to manufacture for you; you must be mad.”

  • http://politicalfilm.wordpress.com/ polfilmblog

    There are no conspiracies in America. Everyone in government follows the law and you’d have to be some kind of mental deviant to believe otherwise. Your “conspiracist thinking” is just a “cognitive style,” and it doesn’t matter what the facts are. Because the real science is about you, the conspiracist thinker, rather than what you’re investigating.

    Yet another load of horse shit in a world inundated with horse shit.

    Even their framing is unscientific. Scientific method isn’t consensus. It’s about disproving theories and finding the claims that are unable to be disproven. So science itself is about digging to find relevant evidence that bears upon our understandings of specific questions. This labeling of people as “conspiracist thinkers” is a strategy to avoid looking at the evidence and finding the truth about specific crimes. It is a bludgeon to change the conversation from that of evidence-based research to psychobabble gibberish.

    As long as they get to cherry pick claims over at Scientific American, then we might as well show counter claims that show that conspiracies actually do happen. Secret operatives in government, notably CIA, ISI, Mossad, MI6 have engaged in numerous criminal plots over the decades. Operation Gladio is one such plot, and shows covert US and European support for actual terrorist attacks on their own populations. Rather than examining the evidence of attacks like the Bologna railway station bombing, the Scientific American editors are more comfortable pushing the myth of the wild eyed conspiracists who just reject science.

    When over 2000 Architects and Engineers, using scientific method, show their own consensus that the Trade Towers were brought down as controlled demolitions, that isn’t found worthy of actual investigation at Scientific American. The idiots there put a self-styled debunker in print, way back in 2005. Michael Shermer made this ever so “scientific” claim:

    “Conspiricists argue that the buildings should have fallen over on their sides, but with 95 percent of each building consisting of air, they could only have collapsed straight down.

    All the 9/11 conspiracy claims are this easily refuted. ”

    There seems to be very little of scientific value present there. Your mileage may vary.

    http://politicalfilm.wordpress.com/

    • mindofsound

      Excuse me, but your discount of scientific consensus is, as always, twisted. No one argues that consensus is the source of scientific fact. It’s quite the opposite: scientific fact lends itself to consensus. Scientific findings are testable, reproducable, and observable, and therefore, anyone can see that what’s true is true. Thus you garner consensus.

      Clearly you don’t understand exactly what science is. No number of scientists can claim to discovered the facts regarding 9/11. Assuming they had examined all physical material present in the twin towers before and after the impact, they could use science to theorize as to whether it was planes or controlled explosions that brought down the towers, but no one has had such access, nor could they. I’ve watched the videos with their claims but it’s all clearly “motivated rationalization.” Even without strong scientific background I can immediately recognize the flaws in their logic and see alternate explanations for their “evidence.” If you want to believe something you’ll grasp at straws to rationalize it, and that’s exactly what these 9/11 truth videos are doing. “Why aren’t there holes in the side of the Pentagon where the wings entered.” I don’t know, but conjecture and speculation is not scientific fact, no matter how many scientific facts are thrown around in the discussion. It’s only fact if it was observed. Plenty of residents, tourists, and photographers would have noticed if a plane crash scene were being constructed outside of the Pentagon. Then you’d have a fact. No observation, no fact. Only conjecture. And conjecture devoid of facts is just hot air.

      • http://politicalfilm.wordpress.com/ polfilmblog

        Oh Jesus, here we go.

        “Excuse me, but your discount of scientific consensus is, as always, twisted.”

        As always? You stalking me?

        I actually cited a scientific consensus, one that never appears in mainstream rags like Scientific American, which you didn’t seem to grasp. That is the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. The “over 2000 Architects and Engineers” line should have been a giveaway.

        “Clearly you don’t understand exactly what science is. No number of scientists can claim to discovered the facts regarding 9/11.”

        Clearly you misunderstand the issue.

        “Assuming they had examined all physical material present in the twin towers before and after the impact, they could use science to theorize as to whether it was planes or controlled explosions that brought down the towers, but no one has had such access, nor could they.”

        Based on available evidence, they have studied what is out there. Their refutations of official fairy tales has used the available evidence to poke holes in the government’s story. You would know that if you had any idea what you were arguing about.

        “I’ve watched the videos with their claims but it’s all clearly “motivated rationalization.” Even without strong scientific background I can immediately recognize the flaws in their logic and see alternate explanations for their “evidence.”

        Which you decline to actually state. So you’ve watched “the videos,” those being whatever videos you happened upon, and it doesn’t matter what their names are, nor whom was producing them, speaking in them or presenting any specific evidence. You have absolutely nothing to say on the topic, Bubba.

        “If you want to believe something you’ll grasp at straws to rationalize it, and that’s exactly what these 9/11 truth videos are doing.”

        You haven’t even cited a single source, claim you have no scientific training, and yet you know it all. Sure you do. Why don’t you go prove that Richard Gage has no idea what he’s talking about and get back to me. I can’t wait.

        “Why aren’t there holes in the side of the Pentagon where the wings entered.”

        Already changing the subject? Cherry picking your claim and ignoring 2000 Architects and Engineers. Very scientific. You can get a gig at Sci American. They appreciate that level of rigor.

        “I don’t know, but conjecture and speculation is not scientific fact, no matter how many scientific facts are thrown around in the discussion.”

        Either you have no idea what the actual dispute is about, or you don’t care. Either way, you have nothing valid to add.

        “It’s only fact if it was observed. Plenty of residents, tourists, and photographers would have noticed if a plane crash scene were being constructed outside of the Pentagon. “

        No one brought up the pentagon. Except you.

        “Then you’d have a fact. No observation, no fact. Only conjecture. And conjecture devoid of facts is just hot air.”

        And you are the authority.

        As for eyewitnesses observations, they are notoriously unreliable as well. If you’d studied even that you wouldn’t look like such an ignoramus.

        • mindofsound

          You’re not saying anything yourself, “Bubba.” Just being hostile really.

          Unfortunately, your read of my “as always” at the top was narcissistic, as I was speaking of the twisted logic of ANYONE who denies a matter of scientific consensus (global warming deniers, creationists), not just you. I don’t know you and would certainly not waste my time stalking you or seeking out your previous comments. But your self-centered response lends some insight into where your head is at.

          And excuse me for not citing which “9/11 truth” movies I’ve watched, it’s been years and I’ve found they all make the same basic claims. I believe I’ve watched “9/11 in Plane Sight.” Still haven’t gotten around to “Spare Change” because I assume it’s redundant and my NetFlix queue is long. For a while a Facebook friend who was a hardcore 9/11 truther was constantly sending me videos that he found highly credible, of which I did not catalogue the titles, but I found them to be nothing more than speculative conjecture. Real proof was lacking, always. I’m familiar with Zeitgeist as well, which is actually more sensible than the 9/11-specific videos I’ve seen, albeit still heavy on conjecture.

          So anyway, why would I go into detail debunking, point-by-point, the conspiracy theories? It’s too easy, and plenty already have. It’s a tired debate, and it’s not why I joined the discussion, despite your insistence that my failure to do so affects my credibility. I made plenty of salient rhetorical points, some of which you quoted back to me, but instead of responding to the point itself you chose to question my credibility and hurl insults. All it does it cast doubt on your own reasoning.

          I may not have professional scientific “training” as you saw fit to highlight, but I have studied plenty of science at the University level (as anyone with a college degree has), have done tons of independent reading because science genuinely fascinates me, and have always had a strong aptitude for science, logic, and philosophy, as my college grades would prove. I could post a JPG of my report cards showing that I completely aced classes like bio, genetics, physics, critical thinking (BECAUSE I FUNDAMENTALLY UNDERSTAND THEM), and even a class on propaganda in which I wrote a 20-page dissertation debunking the Government’s case for War in Iraq; but I didn’t realize this was a requirement to earn a seat in the discussion. I’d hoped the soundness of my points would suffice.

          But enough about me. Your effort to redirect the focus to me instead of addressing the content of my words is a poor rhetorical tactic of which I’m all too familiar. I call it forfeiting the debate (which of course means losing the debate). I’d declare victory now but my purpose was not to win anything. It was to shed some sanity on the discussion.

          To that end, the views of 2,000 concerned scientists amongst millions worldwide nowhere nearly amounts to consensus, nor does the speculation of scientists amount to fact. Understanding the distinctions between facts (proven and re-provable), informed speculation (good guess), and uninformed conjecture (hot air) is required for critical examination of these issues, or any issue. Unfortunately the truthers mix all 3 without distinction, treating anything as fact if it supports the desired conclusion, and fiction if it doesn’t. Then you get these complex arguments which are just conjecture based on conjecture based on conjecture, which amounts to circular reasoning. Verifiable facts, any of which should reasonably collapse their house of cards, are disregarded or dodged.

          Speculation and hypotheses are never facts, regardless of how well informed they may be. These 2,000 scientists may have a consensus of *opinion* among their group (which is not shared by the millions of other scientists worldwide) but true scientific consensus in the meaningful sense is a completely different notion that denotes consistent verifiability of experimental results. There’s a de facto consensus when no scientist can redo an experiment and produce different results.

          You want an example of an easy to refute claim from 9/11 truthers? You mentioned the supposedly “controlled explosions” that brought down the towers. The only evidence cited for this is the appearance of blasts coming through the openings immediately before each section collapsed. Answer: IT’S CALLED AIR PRESSURE! When you graduate from 1st grade science to 2nd grade (which the truthers clearly never did) you learn about air pressure. Put some confetti into the end of a trombone and blow through the mouthpiece. The confetti goes shooting out, much like the bursts of debris that the truthers are calling controlled explosions. Was there an explosion inside the trombone, or was it air pressure being applied from the other side? As a building is collapsing, the air from the collapsed floors does not all come out the sides of the collapsing floor; much of it is pushed downward, through elevator shafts and other corridors, ultimately getting expelled through openings on lower floors. This is easy to imagine, and easily explains the visual effect of bursts preceding each floor’s collapse. Case closed on the controlled explosion theory. Easily.

          Please forgive me, master, for mentioning the Pentagon. I thought it was something the 9/11 truth seekers found suspicious. Clearly the Pentagon is completely irrelevant to the 9/11 conspiracy. But you’re right about eyewitness testimony. Clearly the perpetrators could have assembled a fictional plane crash scene outside the pentagon without any tourists or residents noticing or photographing its assembly. That’s obvious. Oops, I mean no, that’s impossible. Yes, memory recall can be flawed, but you can’t create something like that without anyone noticing or photographing it. The problems with eyewitness testimony are irrelevant unless you believe that anyone who witnessed it had their memory wiped a la Men in Black.

          That’s as far as I’m going to go wasting my time debunking obvious bull, so don’t troll me for more. This debate is tired and if you want sound responses to the truther questions, they’re all over the internet. 12 years worth!

          My purpose here was to affirm the point of the article, which is that when you want to believe something you will disregard more reasonable explanations in favor of those that support your desired conclusion. You have exemplified this truth once already. I welcome you to respond to this message and prove it again.

          Oh, and speaking of science, a recent study showed that a person with a faith-based belief system (like a conspiracy theorist or “tea party patriot”) has a tendency not only to ignore facts, but that in the face of facts they actually cling more tightly to their anti-fact beliefs. I believe you may be caught in this psychological trap. Here’s my source, since you like sources:
          http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/

  • Juan

    We’ve been treated to quite a few of these types of pieces here on disinfo in which the main thesis is that anyone who does not accept the dominant narrative without question is suffering from “conspiratorial ideation.” To me, this suggests that TPTB have found it necessary to trot out the usual propaganda deflecting attention away from themselves and their nefarious actions and onto anyone who dares question the staus quo. Essentially the message is: “There are no conspiracies and the people who promulgate them or question the dominat narrative are bat shit crazy.”
    For anyone whose been paying attention these tactics are incredibly transparent.
    I am hopeful that as more shit comes to light about the actions of the MIC more people will start to wake the fuck up.

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