7 thoughts on “You Don’t Say”

  1. I think what is going on here is that some facts activate the parts of our brains that deal with our social relationships and other don’t. We process those facts differently because the practical implications are different. Over the course of human history, cleaving to one’s own was often more important than objective evaluations of any particular observation. We are probably wired to react against information that we judge might hurt whatever group it is that we ego identify with.

  2. Which makes the epiphanies described in Ward Connerly’s autobiography and by neo-neo-con all the more attractive.

    I’ll admit my change was gut level – my mind could no longer do those gymnastics. (Now, I assume, it does different ones. And my level of comfort with, say, CNN, is not as high as it might be if I were truly more tolerant, objective, thoughtful.) But I changed because I had to stop far too often “being myself” around liberals and found the world they were “dissing” was mine.

  3. The way they describe the experiment is that they had people look at “clearly contradictory” statements by each candidate, and then later presented explanations for the “clear contradictions”. I’m not sure that gives them a valid experiment.

    I viewed a lot of one candidate’s supposedly contradictory statements as making perfect sense, and the other candidate’s statements as complete garbage, because I agreed with the underlying philosophy of the one candidate and interpreted his statements according to that philosophy — I immediately knew how the seemingly contradictory ideas fit together.

    When somebody popped up a list of candidate X’s contradictions, I scanned the list and immediately recognized I held many of the same ideas or opinions and had my own explanation for why the two ideas made sense together. The fact that they were phrased in seemingly contradictory ways didn’t bother me because I already viewed them as non-contradictory. When I saw a list of candidate Y’s contradictions, I scanned the list and thought all of his ideas sucked anyway, so the fact that they also appeared contradictory was enough for me to accept them as being contradictions.

    I don’t think this experiment really demonstrates anything more than that.

    If they’d repeated the experiment with a control group and given the same statements but mixed the names (pretending Bush said the Kerry things and vice versa) or just omitted the names, I think they could draw the conclusions they drew. But so far, all they really proved is that people who agree with candidate X don’t view candiate X’s statements as contradictory, which I could’ve told you without a study.

  4. LothorBot,

    I think the contradictory statements where not candidates contradicting themselves but of contradicting each other. The point of the study is that people use different areas of their brain to process the same information depending on who said it.

    I could be wrong but that appears from reading the second hand reports.

  5. Shannon, the above article says:

    The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, that clearly contradicted each other. The test subjects were asked to consider and rate the discrepancy. Then they were presented with another statement that might explain away the contradiction. The scenario was repeated several times for each candidate.

    The brain imaging revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.

    It sounds to me like they were quoting the candidates seemingly contradicting themselves, not contradicting each other, and rating whether or not people thought the candidates were really contradicting themselves… and then they were presenting explanations of why the seeming contradictions were not really contradictions, and rating whether or not people bought the explanations. I think the explanation for the responses they got is simple — if you already think like the candidate and you hold the views the candidate holds, you’ll immediately recognize why many seeming contradictions really are not. If you don’t think like the candidate, you’ll have a hard time identifying with them enough to see how their statements fit together in a non-contradictory way.

    Seems like a poorly designed test. It’s like if you gave a devout Christian and a devout Muslim each lists of Bible and Koran contradictions. If they’re already familiar with the text and the underlying ideas, they’ll already know certain apparent contradictions really aren’t (only a small percentage of the items on your average “contradictions” list have any validity whatsoever, and those who are familiar with the ideas will immediately recognize this.) They’ll probably also ignore some real contradictions, giving the benefit of the doubt to their preferred text. The hard part is determining how much of the reaction is of the first type (knowing the ideas well enough to know that’s not a real contradiction) and how much is of the second (ignoring facts), and this study doesn’t even attempt to distinguish between them.

    In both scenarios, IMO, it would be helpful to have a control group rate statements as contradictory or not contradictory without giving attributions for the statements. Then have a group rate the statements with the proper attributions attached, and another group rate them with scrambled attributions (sometimes right, sometimes not.) Looking at the difference between the ratings would show how much of the contradiction-ignoring comes from the “my team said that so I’ll assume it makes sense” reaction versus how much comes from the “I know those ideas aren’t really contradictory” reaction.

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