Original Paper

Political Behavior

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 137-155

First online:

The Motivated Processing of Political Arguments

  • Charles S. TaberAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Stony Brook University Email author 
  • , Damon CannAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Utah State University
  • , Simona KucsovaAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Grand Valley State University

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We report the results of an experiment designed to replicate and extend recent findings on motivated political reasoning. In particular, we are interested in disconfirmation biases—the tendency to counter-argue or discount information with which one disagrees—in the processing of political arguments on policy issues. Our experiment examines 8 issues, including some of local relevance and some of national relevance, and manipulates the presentation format of the policy arguments. We find strong support for our basic disconfirmation hypothesis: people seem unable to ignore their prior beliefs when processing arguments or evidence. We also find that this bias is moderated by political sophistication and strength of prior attitude. We do not find, however, that argument type matters, suggesting that motivated biases are quite robust to changes in argument format. Finally, we find strong support for the polarization of attitudes as a consequence of biased processing.


Motivated reasoning Bayes’ rule Political beliefs Public opinion Attitude polarization Political information processing