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The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever

US Politics & Gov't  (tags: americans, democrats, dishonesty, education, elections, ethics, Govtfearmongering, lies, media, politics, propaganda, republicans )

- 1705 days ago -
Say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, or reason can provide the tools that people need in order to make good decisions.

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Kit B (276)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 6:47 am
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Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research paper is called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but for me a better title is the headline on science writer Chris Mooney’s piece about it in Grist: “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.”

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly. His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.”

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions. It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem. The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are. We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth.

Nyan and his collaborators have been running experiments trying to answer this terrifying question about American voters: Do facts matter?

The answer, basically, is no. When people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct those errors only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.

Here’s some of what Nyhan found:
•People who thought WMDs were found in Iraq believed that misinformation even more strongly when they were shown a news story correcting it.
•People who thought George W. Bush banned all stem cell research kept thinking he did that even after they were shown an article saying that only some federally funded stem cell work was stopped.
•People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs. They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same. Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
•But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy. If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.

In Kahan’s experiment, some people were asked to interpret a table of numbers about whether a skin cream reduced rashes, and some people were asked to interpret a different table – containing the same numbers – about whether a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns reduced crime. Kahan found that when the numbers in the table conflicted with people’s positions on gun control, they couldn’t do the math right, though they could when the subject was skin cream. The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem.

I hate what this implies – not only about gun control, but also about other contentious issues, like climate change. I’m not completely ready to give up on the idea that disputes over facts can be resolved by evidence, but you have to admit that things aren’t looking so good for a reason. I keep hoping that one more photo of an iceberg the size of Manhattan calving off of Greenland, one more stretch of record-breaking heat and drought and fires, one more graph of how atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen in the past century, will do the trick. But what these studies of how our minds work suggest is that the political judgments we’ve already made are impervious to facts that contradict us.

Maybe climate change denial isn’t the right term; it implies a psychological disorder. Denial is business-as-usual for our brains. More and better facts don’t turn low-information voters into well-equipped citizens. It just makes them more committed to their misperceptions. In the entire history of the universe, no Fox News viewers ever changed their minds because some new data upended their thinking. When there’s a conflict between partisan beliefs and plain evidence, it’s the beliefs that win. The power of emotion over reason isn’t a bug in our human operating systems, it’s a feature.

By: Marty Kaplan | Alternet |

Patrick Donovan (344)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 8:11 am
Sad but true. One need only look at the US Congress to accept this reality.

Mike H (252)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 9:05 am
I have thought that humans are irrational for a long time. We are the most greedy destructive speacies ever created. I also think that any democracy is doomed. A time goes by individuals and groups acquire more and more power and it becomes a democracy in name only.

Arielle S (313)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 9:23 am
Well, that explains a lot.... of course, it also assumes some even have brains....

Pogle S (88)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 11:49 am
The great brainwashed!

James Travers (6)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 12:09 pm
"in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. "

A fine article. I have been harping on this for many years and it makes me crazy. Political partisianship and religious zealotry are responsible for most of the most attrocious acts in human history.

Joanne Dixon (38)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 12:15 pm
Heck, I could have told you a long time ago that decision making has zip to do with education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason. Anyone who is close to someone with an injury to the prefrontal cortex knows that. A classic work on the subject is "Descartes' Error" by Antonio Damasio. It gets awfully technical, but the first couple of chapters are accessible and include some history. And as for what may be purely psychological factors in the process (or lack thereof), "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt is very educational.

Grace Adams (43)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 12:58 pm
I should have read Kit B.'s comment instead of going to the site. She gave a good summary. The article on the site was much interfered with by a very annoying pop up ad that could NOT be closed. My values pretty much determine my politics. I am a liberal--I believe: 1) each generation is obliged to leave the commons to the next generation in at least usable condition. 2) The poor you have always with you and it is cheaper within ten years to support the poor in modest comfort than to neglect them KARMA. 3) Our health care system is dysfunctional and needs to be reformed both to make it more affordable and to make it better able to deal effectively with chronic problems.

Beth Tatum (95)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:04 pm
What a SHOCK!!!!!

Judith Hand (55)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:05 pm
Huh. Gotta read that again; I'm over-politicized.

Robert K (31)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:21 pm
My 163 IQ and degree haven't stopped me from making stupid decisions, especially from 1952 to 1997 when I was a Republican. ;o)

. (0)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:21 pm
Great article, Kit. Thanks for sharing.

Robert K (31)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:24 pm
And a high IQ is no guarantee that you have any survival skills at all. Thankfully I haven't proven that yet, but there's always tomorrow. When I was in Mensa I saw lots of apparently overeducated dumb people, but of course most of them probably thought that of me as well.

l L (1)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 2:21 pm
Well? I researched myself and those around me.. People vote their interest. If.they know more truth it helps.. to make better choices before the fact than after..

But the voting process is not perfect.. Most times it is rounded off to he nearest winner.. Maybe after the fact we find out something has gone awry

The way things are happening; voting in America is shameful. Trying to keep us from voting.

A lot of revolving stuff creates decision making that can change on the spin of a dime. Nice to be free..Nobody triicking with your mind.. who don't know what they are doing.

Lois Jordan (63)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 3:31 pm
Noted. Thanks for posting this interesting piece, Kit.
So, if I'm reading this right, you need to "butter up" someone you know has views that oppose your own. Make them "feel good about themselves." Then, present some facts on a subject they would typically oppose you on....and....voila!...they agree with you. Somewhat. If you're lucky and they're not just totally nuts.

Lindsey O (19)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 3:51 pm
A very depressing conclusion, although perhaps it at least partially explains why so many creationists keep insisting that evolutionary theory violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics when it clearly and unequivocally doesn't (and keep on insisting even after they've been shown the truth). Or keep insisting there aren't any transitional fossils - despite the mass of evidence to the contrary.

marie C (163)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 4:43 pm
Thanks Kit

Kit B (276)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 5:03 pm

I thought this article offered some insight about why some people will deny facts. I may not like that a fact gets in the way of something I wish were true, but facts don't bend with change, they are what they are. It doesn't require a great intellect to read and open your mind, anyone is free to do that.

Jeremy S (3)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 5:41 pm
Another reason to despair for the human race...

It does explain some things, though.

Carrie B (306)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 6:08 pm
Interesting, but certainly no big surprise. Just look at some of the posts and comments by some of our fellow care2 members.

Mary Donnelly (47)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 7:55 pm
Great article, again, KIt.

reft h (66)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 10:05 pm
thanks kit

JL A (281)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 10:33 pm
I guess this tells us about a "kind of stupid" that apparently cannot be fixed.

Betty Kelly (4)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 11:06 pm
I have been totally frustrated watching a person looking at proof that their belief was not possible and still denying the truth.

Past Member (0)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 12:31 am
Well said Robert K. and everyone.

Thanks Kit.

Frances Darcy (133)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 12:58 am
That does explain a lot...

Past Member (0)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 1:21 am
Thank you KIt :) It's a relief to know why I think and behave like this... I DON'T USE IT!

Tom Edgar (56)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 1:33 am

Ho ho... I've done just this with the. "Noah's Ark" with a whole swag of indisputable facts that proved conclusively the maritime impossibility of the fairy story I gave them to a young S D A lady. Several weeks later, when I asked for her findings she said. "My Pastor told me I should take no notice of them and believe the Bible.". Not much different to the old American mantra of...."My country, right or wrong."

Gene J (290)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 6:43 am
"The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem."

I agree, I hate what this implies. But it does explain something to me that doesn't make me any happier nor any more hopeful, just explains it. I've wondered for a very long time how the 1% live with themselves, why they seem to have no compassion for anyone outside their group, why they seem to feel they deserve what they have and the poor somehow deserve their lot in life. I find this to correlate directly to religious beliefs as well though the article didn't exactly go there but I have also long noticed that the more conservative one's religious beliefs were the more likely one was to, in essence, blame the poor for their lot in life. This is not what Christ taught, yet somehow these Christians are able to ignore those teachings and believe the poor are somehow bad, the sick deserve it and everything that happens to people is what they have coming because of some innate flaw that requires their punishment.

I just find all of that mind boggling. I'm not surprised by the studies findings, but I am sadly in agreement with them as they fit what I have observed in my own lifetime. How did humanity go so far astray I wonder? There must have been a time in our history when belonging to the group meant survival and separation, death. We've lost that sense of community, we've lost our humanity, many have lost their sense of fair play, innate morality I think of that as, a knowing of "right" and "wrong" without needing to be taught. Most of use know it is wrong to harm another, but are somehow able to overcome that when our profit is at stake.

I've seen this quote in many forms and places. It seems to be the truth of us now, it is how we have climate change deniers, 1%ers and republicans who believe the poor are inherently bad and use those feelings to justify anything they choose to do whether it be profiting from child labor, turning a blind eye to the horrors women and children face in equality and in sex trafficking and taking money for activities they know at heart are harmful to others. “It’s hard to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it”. That sounds so simple, but it is what passes for communal morality in far too large a percentage of the population today and is, I believe, at the heart of the many ills that plague us now.

Jamie Clemons (282)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 7:37 am
At least we know what we are up against.

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 8:13 am

How many times have I found myself in one those discussions that seem to be happening in a parallel universe? Present some indisputable, non-partisan facts and have the other side of the discussion,still cling to what is safe, warm and comfortable, even if they are completely wrong.

Gene J (290)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 8:32 am
Exactly, Kit. I've had that same experience many times. I used to fact check, well I still do for my own information, everything, particularly the outlandish things some friends would send me, I'd find them wrong, prove it to them and have them just say, well, I believe what I believe. As if truth meant nothing. And to them, I guess it doesn't. One such is my brother. whom I have not seen in years, I don't like exposing myself to that kind of vitriol as I can't sit quietly by while he, or someone like him, goes on and on about things I know are untrue. I just don't understand that at all, I can't do it myself, truth is important to me and if someone shows me an error I've made, I'll apologize and do what I can to make it right. I think there was a time when most of us felt that way. I hope that time returns someday. That we care about each other as we care about ourselves - so much would change so fast if we could just do that. Sigh.

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 8:49 am

I hear that, Gene. I wonder if part of the problem is our endless media cycles. Just because someone in the Senate or the House burps or farts does not make that news, but in the need to fill up the daily crunch of time, every thing is reported as if it were important and factual.

Boehner said that Obama care is driving up health costs, yet in the states that have implemented this new policy both the cost of insurance policies and health care costs are down. Many will stop thinking after hearing the words, "Obama care is a train wreck". Those words reinforce what many want to hear, they do not want to hear anything beyond that. Sure that is partisan thinking, but some of us do not hang our hat on the words from an elected, wanting to be reelected Congressman. Some favorite phrases being used to justify this absurd thinking:
Obama care is costing jobs? Ask them to prove that.

Health care should be in FREE market!
Health care has been in a free market, and it's draining money from the government and causing millions of people to declare bankruptcy. The free market of health care is both a misnomer and false comparison.


Robert K (31)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 9:01 am
I'm kind of amazed by you folks. I was really hesitant about posting my IQ and figured I'd get slammed, but oddly it's received a few green stars. I'm happy I have it, but not proud of it. Mostly it's a gift from my mom who graduated from high school at 15 during the depression and who because of that only had a chance to be a waitress. I had better opportunities and have had a good life, but I haven't accomplished anything you might expect from a "brainiac." So, I'm not, as I said, proud of it, and sometimes I'm a bit embarrassed by the fact that I offer obvious simplistic remedies for our problems, like the total destruction of the Republican party, killing corporations that harm the public and inelegantly addressing the ignorance of Diane O. So, thanks everyone for apparently accepting it in the way it was intended.

BTW, and possibly one reason for my underaccomplishments is that I have severe ADHD, but Thom Hartmann has ADHD and seems to get great results from it. ;o) The only thing I've ever done that it hasn't interfered with was baseball, and I reported in to a class AAA team upon discharge from the Army and within a week I had destroyed my left knee and ended a promising career outside of engineering. That's life....

Esther Z (94)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 9:08 am
Well, that explains the Tea Party mentality where facts only exist when it suits their agenda. As I see it, based on the article, the more politically passionate you are (let's just say a political fanatic.) the more you'll tend to stick to irrational theories. Doesn't seem to matter if you're an extreme leftie or a right hard winger; delusions run rampant, and paranoia rules!

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 9:12 am

I think that sums it up very well. In the past we tended to ignore those on the outer extremes, now the extremes are trending to become the main stream.

Nancy M (197)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 9:23 am
Scary thought for my day.

But again, with the scientific illiteracy in this country, most people really don't know how to look at data anyway.

DORIS L (61)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 9:59 am

Sara T (3)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 10:36 am
Is that why the congress members are acting like big babies. I WANT MY WAY, they crow!

M B (62)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 11:04 am
Great article, thanks Kit. I'm not surprised. Recently I saw a test on the telly. Students were given "alcoholic drinks" and they got drunk - only to find out that it all was non alcoholic !! They b e l i e v e d, so they got drunk ! We are so easily manipulated !

Malgorzata Z (198)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 12:26 pm

Robert B (60)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 1:55 pm
I'm not so sure I totally agree with these studies. Political partisianship and religious zealotry are symptoms of early brainwashing. I've noticed that people who grew up in changing surroundings instead of growing up in the same town have a much wider view of the world and are more aware that most things are not set in stone. And no matter how educated you are, if you were taught bigotry and greed growing up, you have a very narrow view of the world and that kind of upbringing is very hard to undo. If people were totally immune to facts we would still believe the earth was flat and that it was the center of the Universe. The key to rational thinking that can accept a new fact is awareness. That is something that is in very short supply. If these researchers expanded their studies to groups that were aware of the "big picture" and "free thinkers" I'll bet the results would be different.

Sheryl G (363)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 3:01 pm
See it here on C2 all the time, give them plenty of facts and the next day or month later they are still spitting out the same old rubbish. Either they choose to remain ignorant and not read the links or they read them and still choose to remain where they are. I wouldn't mind so much if their mis-information didn't have such an impact upon my life.

Robert K (31)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 4:13 pm
Hence good ol' Diane. ;o)

And today the morons in the House voted to defund SNAP. At least over a dozen Republicans couldn't stand the hatred and corruption of their compatriots and voted against it. No committee hearings, no debate, no amendments allowed And they complained about "Obamacare" supposedly being rammed through after more than a year of debate and 96 Republican amendments. God help America when these people are holding office.

l L (1)
Friday September 20, 2013, 9:49 am
Reading additional posts. All points interesting to ponder further.

As well; I'd say take this survey in 20 years hence. It may be more telling than now; because we just not too long ago (a year or so) put out there to make the voter more informed.
How may are now more informed or took steps to become that?

I only say that because... for example, we dump on the school systems that they are failing and get them to do it this way or that. Before we can measure anything.. we then yet say.. they are failing and give them another strategy and say they are incompetent having never given anything time to work or applied any measurements, or blocks of measurements. We just keep finding excuses to cheat people out of their do and keep giving politians something to rip people off.

I think this survey is premature.

l L (1)
Friday September 20, 2013, 10:33 am
Why they have changed my name is beyond me.. I didn't do it.. it's lyn L. not iL
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