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New Study: Conservatives Are Anti-Rational

Old 09-16-08, 11:57 AM
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New Study: Conservatives Are Anti-Rational

I thought I'd go the grundle route on this post.

The Power of Political Misinformation

By Shankar Vedantam
Monday, September 15, 2008; A06

Have you seen the photo of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin brandishing a rifle while wearing a U.S. flag bikini? Have you read the e-mail saying Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was sworn into the U.S. Senate with his hand placed on the Koran? Both are fabricated -- and are among the hottest pieces of misinformation in circulation.

As the presidential campaign heats up, intense efforts are underway to debunk rumors and misinformation. Nearly all these efforts rest on the assumption that good information is the antidote to misinformation.

But a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds after it has been debunked -- even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.

In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University, volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber."

A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation.

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.

Republican disapproval of Roberts rose after hearing the misinformation but vanished upon hearing the correct information. The damaging charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after it was debunked among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad information in the first place.

Bullock found a similar effect when it came to misinformation about abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Volunteers were shown a Newsweek report that suggested a Koran had been flushed down a toilet, followed by a retraction by the magazine. Where 56 percent of Democrats had disapproved of detainee treatment before they were misinformed about the Koran incident, 78 percent disapproved afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval dropped back only to 68 percent -- showing that misinformation continued to affect the attitudes of Democrats even after they knew the information was false.

Bullock and others have also shown that some refutations can strengthen misinformation, especially among conservatives.

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.

Bullock, Nyhan and Reifler are all Democrats.

Reifler questioned attempts to debunk rumors and misinformation on the campaign trail, especially among conservatives: "Sarah Palin says she was against the Bridge to Nowhere," he said, referring to the pork-barrel project Palin once supported before she reversed herself. "Sending those corrections to committed Republicans is not going to be effective, and they in fact may come to believe even more strongly that she was always against the Bridge to Nowhere."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...402375_pf.html

More information, including a link to the paper, here.
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Old 09-16-08, 12:12 PM
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What a load of bull. I mean, unless Bush would agree. I guess I'll reserve judgment.
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Old 09-16-08, 12:26 PM
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I'll be more inclined to agree with this paper if someone refutes it.
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Old 09-16-08, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by starman9000 View Post
I'll be more inclined to agree with this paper if someone refutes it.

I told you once.
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Old 09-16-08, 01:17 PM
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Hey, just because conservatives <i>aren't</i> rational doesn't mean liberals <i>are</i>.
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Old 09-16-08, 01:20 PM
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Taken from the paper:
"It would also be helpful to test additional corrections of liberal misperceptions. Currently, all of our backfire results come from conservatives – a finding that may provide support for the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic (Greenberg 25 and Jonas 2003; Jost et al 2003a, 2003b). However, without conducting more studies, it is impossible to determine if the results we observe are systematic or the result of the specific misperceptions tested."

I don't have time to read it in detail, but it appears they carried out 4 tests, with the following results.
1. Iraq War correction version 1 - correction tended to reinforce conservatives' misperception
2. Iraq War correction version 2 - correction showed no effect on conservatives' misperception
3. Taxes correction - correction tended to reinforce conservatives' misperception
4. Stem cell correction - correction showed no effect on liberals' misperception

There are multiple arguments to be made against the conclusion suggested by the OP and Washington Post article. As quoted above, the people who carried out the study actually come out and say its not possible to say the 'backlash' effect is specific to those holding conservative views. Furthermore, the results obtained indicate that the 'backlash' effect could very easily be dependent on other variables.

Don't get me wrong. There are tons of stupid conservatives out there. There are also tons of stupid liberals, though, and I don't see anything in this paper to indicate that one side has a higher concentration of idiots or that one side's idiots are even dumber than the other's.
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Old 09-16-08, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by maxfisher View Post
Taken from the paper:
"It would also be helpful to test additional corrections of liberal misperceptions. Currently, all of our backfire results come from conservatives – a finding that may provide support for the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic (Greenberg 25 and Jonas 2003; Jost et al 2003a, 2003b). However, without conducting more studies, it is impossible to determine if the results we observe are systematic or the result of the specific misperceptions tested."

I don't have time to read it in detail, but it appears they carried out 4 tests, with the following results.
1. Iraq War correction version 1 - correction tended to reinforce conservatives' misperception
2. Iraq War correction version 2 - correction showed no effect on conservatives' misperception
3. Taxes correction - correction tended to reinforce conservatives' misperception
4. Stem cell correction - correction showed no effect on liberals' misperception

There are multiple arguments to be made against the conclusion suggested by the OP and Washington Post article. As quoted above, the people who carried out the study actually come out and say its not possible to say the 'backlash' effect is specific to those holding conservative views. Furthermore, the results obtained indicate that the 'backlash' effect could very easily be dependent on other variables.

Don't get me wrong. There are tons of stupid conservatives out there. There are also tons of stupid liberals, though, and I don't see anything in this paper to indicate that one side has a higher concentration of idiots or that one side's idiots are even dumber than the other's.
Don't you know that JasonF is playing grundle in this thread?
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Old 09-16-08, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan View Post
Hey, just because conservatives <i>aren't</i> rational doesn't mean liberals <i>are</i>.

How about the libertarians?
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Old 09-16-08, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan View Post
Hey, just because conservatives <i>aren't</i> rational doesn't mean liberals <i>are</i>.
At least (according to the article I posted) liberals don't become more likely to be wrong when you present them with more facts. That's the part I found most amazing.

"President Bush says there were WMDs in Iraq. Do you believe him?"
"No."
"What if I told you that an independent think tank agrees with you about the WMDs?"
"Oh, in that case, I want to change my answer. Now I believe President Bush."

The Kevin Drum post I linked to says that it didn't matter who the expert was -- sometimes, they said the expert was the New York Times, sometimes they said it was Fox News, and that variable had little effect on the outcome.
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Old 09-16-08, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by orangecrush18 View Post
Don't you know that JasonF is playing grundle in this thread?
I voted for "JasonF should leave the polls to grundle."
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Old 09-16-08, 01:57 PM
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I voted that liberals are more irrational and more likely to look at a presidential candidate as a religious figure just to piss off the op.


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Old 09-16-08, 01:59 PM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan View Post
Hey, just because conservatives <i>aren't</i> rational doesn't mean liberals <i>are</i>.
That's for damn sure.
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Old 09-16-08, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by JasonF View Post
At least (according to the article I posted) liberals don't become more likely to be wrong when you present them with more facts. That's the part I found most amazing.

"President Bush says there were WMDs in Iraq. Do you believe him?"
"No."
"What if I told you that an independent think tank agrees with you about the WMDs?"
"Oh, in that case, I want to change my answer. Now I believe President Bush."

The Kevin Drum post I linked to says that it didn't matter who the expert was -- sometimes, they said the expert was the New York Times, sometimes they said it was Fox News, and that variable had little effect on the outcome.
Except, from my understanding, that's not how the test was carried out. In each instance, one group was given an article to read and another group was given an article to read that contained a correction in it. In that case, they're not changing an opinion because someone agrees with it, but applying a different set of facts to arrive at their opinion. If you gave two groups of liberals an article containing misinformation about gun laws and one of them included a correction citing the NRA, I'm guessing you'd see the same 'backlash' effect.
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Old 09-16-08, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by maxfisher View Post
Except, from my understanding, that's not how the test was carried out. In each instance, one group was given an article to read and another group was given an article to read that contained a correction in it. In that case, they're not changing an opinion because someone agrees with it, but applying a different set of facts to arrive at their opinion. If you gave two groups of liberals an article containing misinformation about gun laws and one of them included a correction citing the NRA, I'm guessing you'd see the same 'backlash' effect.
Fair point about it being two groups, although if they constructed their samples properly, you would expect that the groups would behave in similar ways if their roles were switched. But you're right -- my imaginary dialogue is not an accurate description of the way it went down.

I think the stem cell example was targeted at one of liberals' misconceptions, but it would be nice to see the study repeated with other liberal misconceptions. The problem with doing that is liberals have so few misconceptions compared to conservatives.
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Old 09-16-08, 02:23 PM
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Originally Posted by JasonF View Post
I voted for "JasonF should leave the polls to grundle."
So did I.
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Old 09-16-08, 02:51 PM
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Originally Posted by JasonF View Post
Fair point about it being two groups, although if they constructed their samples properly, you would expect that the groups would behave in similar ways if their roles were switched. But you're right -- my imaginary dialogue is not an accurate description of the way it went down.

I think the stem cell example was targeted at one of liberals' misconceptions, but it would be nice to see the study repeated with other liberal misconceptions. The problem with doing that is liberals have so few misconceptions compared to conservatives.
The Bullock study mentioned in the article pointed out a couple... The respective political slants aside, I'm inclined to put more stock in that research, as it used actual news stories instead of fake stories written specifically for the study. Seems like less of an opportunity for bias to creep in and it's easier for me to buy that people are likely to believe something bad in spite of a retraction, as opposed to because of it.

As for which side is worse, I have friends and family on both sides of the aisle and have recently had to respond to many forwarded emails with links to Snopes, debunking such nonsense as Obama wanting to change the national anthem or McCain admitting to slaughtering civilians in Vietnam. And in both types of instance, I always get a response from someone on the list that says something along the lines of 'well, there has to be some truth to it or it wouldn't be going around.' A lot of people on both sides of the aisle are so damned intent on demonizing the opposition that facts are meaningless in the face of their desperation to be on the morally superior team.
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Old 09-16-08, 05:20 PM
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I believe this is a huge reason why republicans still like to bring up that Iraq was involved in 9/11.

Makes sense.
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Old 09-16-08, 05:24 PM
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Conservatives are rational sometimes and sometimes they're not.

Liberals are rational sometimes and sometimes they're not.

Centrists are always rational.
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Old 09-16-08, 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by wishbone View Post

I told you once.
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Old 09-16-08, 06:32 PM
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All I know is since the 1970's I was told by the media and Hollywood, pop culture that a woman can work and raise a family. Until now if that woman is a mayor and then governor she can't be a vice president. But a man who was just a community orginizer can be President of the United States. Somewhere it seems on side is giving me bull all thses years.
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Old 09-16-08, 06:35 PM
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If anybody can prove that conservatives are rational, it's wm lopez!

Originally Posted by wm lopez View Post
But a man who was just a community orginizer can be President of the United States.
Community Organizer is the only job that Obama has ever held?
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Old 09-16-08, 06:41 PM
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Heh heh. I like this poll!
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Old 09-16-08, 06:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Groucho View Post
If anybody can prove that conservatives are rational, it's wm lopez!

Community Organizer is the only job that Obama has ever held?
He hasn't been that long in the senate and Community Organizer is the one job they seem to pump up. Also he came from Chicago and with all the corruption he didn't even stand up to it. Instead joined with how things are done here in Chicago. But Sara for going against her own party is looked down? Dems were always for women and against corruption until now it seems. So what it comes down to is true what Bill O'Reilly has said on his show this week it's about culture. The liberals don't want a Bible believer with conservative views in the White House.
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Old 09-16-08, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by wm lopez View Post
The liberals don't want a Bible believer with conservative views in the White House.
No shit. Likewise, the conservatives don't want a Bible believer with liberal views in the White House. Shocking, I know.
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Old 09-16-08, 08:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Groucho View Post
No shit. Likewise, the conservatives don't want a Bible believer with liberal views in the White House. Shocking, I know.
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