The Mechanics of Motivated Reasoning
AbstractWhenever we see voters explain away their preferred candidate's weaknesses, dieters assert that a couple scoops of ice cream won't really hurt their weight loss goals, or parents maintain that their children are unusually gifted, we are reminded that people's preferences can affect their beliefs. This idea is captured in the common saying, "People believe what they want to believe." But people don't simply believe what they want to believe. Psychological research makes it clear that "motivated beliefs" are guided by motivated reasoning--reasoning in the service of some self-interest, to be sure, but reasoning nonetheless. People generally reason their way to conclusions they favor, with their preferences influencing the way evidence is gathered, arguments are processed, and memories of past experience are recalled. Each of these processes can be affected in subtle ways by people's motivations, leading to biased beliefs that feel objective. In this symposium introduction, we set the stage for discussion of motivated beliefs in the papers that follow by providing more detail about the underlying psychological processes that guide motivated reasoning.
CitationEpley, Nicholas, and Thomas Gilovich. 2016. "The Mechanics of Motivated Reasoning." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30 (3): 133-40. DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.3.133
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