Motivated Responding in Studies of Factual Learning
Large partisan gaps in reports of factual beliefs have fueled concerns about citizens’ competence and ability to hold representatives accountable. In three separate studies, we reconsider the evidence for one prominent explanation of these gaps—motivated learning. We extend a recent study on motivated learning that asks respondents to deduce the conclusion supported by numerical data. We offer a random set of respondents a small financial incentive to accurately report what they have learned. We find that a portion of what is taken as motivated learning is instead motivated responding. That is, without incentives, some respondents give incorrect but congenial answers when they have correct but uncongenial information. Relatedly, respondents exhibit little bias in recalling the data. However, incentivizing people to faithfully report uncongenial facts increases bias in their judgments of the credibility of what they have learned. In all, our findings suggest that motivated learning is less common than what the literature suggests, but also that there is a whack-a-mole nature to bias, with reduction in bias in one place being offset by increase in another place.
KeywordsMotivated reasoning Learning Responding Partisan bias Factual beliefs Polarization Biased assimilation Prior attitude effect
- Ahler, D., & Sood, G. (2016). The parties in our heads: Misperceptions about party composition and their consequences. Working paper.Google Scholar
- Dawson, E., Gilovich, T., & Regan, D. T. (2002b). Motivated reasoning and susceptibility to the “Cell A” bias. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
- Gilovich, T. D. (1991). How we know what isn’t so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
- Hochschild, J. L. (2001). Where you stand depends on what you see: Connections among values, perceptions of fact, and political prescriptions. In J. H. Kuklinski (Ed.), Citizens and politics: Perspectives from political psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Kahan, D. M. (2013). Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection. Judgment and Decision Making, 8(4), 407–424.Google Scholar
- Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Dawson, E. C., & Slovic, P. (2017). Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government. Behavioural Public Policy, Forthcoming. Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 307. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2319992.
- Kahneman, D. (2013). The marvels and flaws of intuitive thinking. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Thinking: The new science of decision-making, problem-solving, and prediction. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
- Luskin, R. C., Sood, G., & Blank, J. (2013). The waters of Casablanca: Political misinformation (and knowledge and ignorance). Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
- Muirhead, R. (2013). The case for party loyalty. In S. Levinson, J. Parker, & P. Woodruff (Eds.), Loyalty. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Nyhan, B. (2010). Why the “death panel” myth wouldn’t die: Misinformation in the health care reform debate. The Forum, 8(1), 5.Google Scholar
- Shani, D. (2006). Knowing your true colors: Can knowledge correct for partisan bias in Political perceptions? Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar