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(Somewhat off-topic) Study Demonstrates How We Support Our False Beliefs

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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 06:15 PM
Original message
(Somewhat off-topic) Study Demonstrates How We Support Our False Beliefs
I think this study may be helpful in understanding the root causes of some of the arguments seen on E/E (and elsewhere on DU.)

http://www.buffalo.edu/news/10364

Study Demonstrates How We Support Our False Beliefs

A belief in link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 is a case in point; false beliefs stirred by current health care debate may be another

Patricia Donovan

pdonovan@buffalo.edu

716-645-4602

Release Date: August 21, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry, sociologists from four major research institutions focus on one of the most curious aspects of the 2004 presidential election: the strength and resilience of the belief among many Americans that Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Although this belief influenced the 2004 election, they claim it did not result from pro-Bush propaganda, but from an urgent need by many Americans to seek justification for a war already in progress.

The findings may illuminate reasons why some people form false beliefs about the pros and cons of health-care reform or regarding President Obama's citizenship, for example.

The study, "There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification" calls such unsubstantiated beliefs "a serious challenge to democratic theory and practice" and considers how and why it was maintained by so many voters for so long in the absence of supporting evidence.

Co-author Steven Hoffman, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo, says, "Our data shows substantial support for a cognitive theory known as 'motivated reasoning,' which suggests that 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.

"In fact," he says, "for the most part people completely ignore contrary information.

"The study demonstrates voters' ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information," he explains.

While numerous scholars have blamed a campaign of false information and innuendo from the Bush administration, this study argues that the primary cause of misperception in the 9/11-Saddam Hussein case was not the presence or absence of accurate data but a respondent's desire to believe in particular kinds of information.

"The argument here is that people get deeply attached to their beliefs," Hoffman says.

"We form emotional attachments that get wrapped up in our personal identity and sense of morality, irrespective of the facts of the matter. The problem is that this notion of 'motivated reasoning' has only been supported with experimental results in artificial settings. We decided it was time to see if it held up when you talk to actual voters in their homes, workplaces, restaurants, offices and other deliberative settings."

The survey and interview-based study was conducted by Hoffman, Monica Prasad, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Northwestern University; Northwestern graduate students Kieren Bezila and Kate Kindleberger; Andrew Perrin, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and UNC graduate students Kim Manturuk, Andrew R. Payton and Ashleigh Smith Powers (now an assistant professor of political science and psychology at Millsaps College).

The study addresses what it refers to as a "serious challenge to democratic theory and practice that results when citizens with incorrect information cannot form appropriate preferences or evaluate the preferences of others."

One of the most curious "false beliefs" of the 2004 presidential election, they say, was a strong and resilient belief among many Americans that Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Hoffman says that over the course of the 2004 presidential campaign, several polls showed that majorities of respondents believed that Saddam Hussein was either partly or largely responsible for the 9/11 attacks, a percentage that declined very slowly, dipping below 50 percent only in late 2003.

"This misperception that Hussein was responsible for the Twin Tower terrorist attacks was very persistent, despite all the evidence suggesting that no link existed," Hoffman says.

The study team employed a technique called "challenge interviews" on a sample of voters who reported believing in a link between Saddam and 9/11. The researchers presented the available evidence of the link, along with the evidence that there was no link, and then pushed respondents to justify their opinion on the matter. For all but one respondent, the overwhelming evidence that there was no link left no impact on their arguments in support of the link.

One unexpected pattern that emerged from the different justifications that subjects offered for continuing to believe in the validity of the link was that it helped citizens make sense of the Bush Administration's decision to go to war against Iraq.

"We refer to this as 'inferred justification,'" says Hoffman "because for these voters, the sheer fact that we were engaged in war led to a post-hoc search for a justification for that war.

"People were basically making up justifications for the fact that we were at war," he says.

"One of the things that is really interesting about this, from both the perspective of voting patterns but also for democratic theory more generally, Hoffman says, "is that we did not find that people were being duped by a campaign of innuendo so much as they were actively constructing links and justifications that did not exist.

"They wanted to believe in the link," he says, "because it helped them make sense of a current reality. So voters' ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information, whether we think that is good or bad for democratic practice, does at least demonstrate an impressive form of creativity."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.
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tabatha Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 06:28 PM
Response to Original message
1. Interesting - I have found that same phenomenon.
Edited on Sun Aug-23-09 06:35 PM by tabatha
But, it would be interesting to do brain scans on those people who won't change their minds regardless of the facts.
There is a brain difference between left and right-wingers, and I am sure there are parallels.

In fact, this is what I have said for sometime

right-wingers like to be right regardless of the facts
left-wingers like to get the facts to be right out what is actually correct

I guess that is why freepers chase their own tails to arrive back at their preferred beliefs and cannot get out of the loops because facts are ignored.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 02:50 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. right-wingers like to be right regardless of the facts
Edited on Mon Aug-24-09 02:52 PM by OKIsItJustMe
I wish I could agree, but I can't.

In my experience, once "left wingers" learn an appealing "factoid" we can be just as hesitant to give it up as right-wingers are. "My mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts."

So, for example, we left-wingers like to say that it was an active campaign of Bush Administration propaganda which maintained the link in people's minds, while the press release says:


While numerous scholars have blamed a campaign of false information and innuendo from the Bush administration, this study argues that the primary cause of misperception in the 9/11-Saddam Hussein case was not the presence or absence of accurate data but a respondent's desire to believe in particular kinds of information.



I've got to say the amount of disinformation the Bush administration put out when I tried to compile it, or, when I used a resource which had already There really wasn't that much, but there was just enough to comfort people. So, even if President Bush said there was no link, (which he did) "The Right" still continued to believe that there was, and that the link had been proven.
Thursday, 18 September, 2003

Bush rejects Saddam 9/11 link

US President George Bush has said there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 11 September attacks.

The comments - among his most explicit so far on the issue - come after a recent opinion poll found that nearly 70% of Americans believed the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the attacks.

Mr Bush did however repeat his belief that the former Iraqi president had ties to al-Qaeda - the group widely regarded as responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington.

Critics of the war on Iraq have accused the US administration of deliberately encouraging public confusion to generate support for military action.

We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 11 September attacks
President Bush


This is actually scarier.

Honestly, the vast majority of media stories now treat "Global Warming" as a fact, and yet, people will ignore all of that if there is at least one media outlet who is willing to validate their beliefs. (i.e. "It's not a problem folks!")

Even one may not be necessary.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:20 PM
Response to Original message
2. See comments #3 and 18 in the GD thread
Edited on Sun Aug-23-09 08:20 PM by bananas
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pscot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 10:49 PM
Response to Original message
3. I have a couple of issues with this as it's reported in the article
First, there appears to have been no control group; people who had heard the propaganda but didn't succomb to it. Or those who believed, but reconsidered. I think to get a clear idea of what's going on here you would have to look at the full spectrum of responses.

Second, there is no consideration of the roll that loyalty to the president may have played in all this. If they had voted for Bush and believed he was an honest and upright fellow, a large measure of their credulity may have been based in an unwillingness to accept the fact that their president had lied to them. This isn't the same thing as refusing to reconsider an irrational belief because you just can't let go of it emotionally. Loyalty to a trusted leader is a deeply ingrained human characteristic that transcends personal considerations. I'm not denying the effectiveness of propaganda. But part of the reason it works is because it rallies the pack against the nameless and terrifying other.

Basically, I don't think they made their case.
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