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Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk

« WSMD? JA! Are science-curious people just *too politically moderate* to polarize as they get better at comprehending science? | Main | WSMD? JA! Do science-curious people just not *know* enough about science to be "good at" identity-protective cognition? »

Motivating-disposition instrumentalism ... a fragment

From "The Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm," a theme I've explored now & again -- viz., it's silly to get worked up about what "really" drives identity-protective reasoning.

3.2 Operationalizing identity

Scholars have used diverse frameworks to measure the predispositions that inform politically motivated reasoning. Left-right political outlooks are the most common (e.g., Lodge & Taber 2013; Kahan 2013). “Cultural worldviews” are used in others studies (e.g., Bolsen, Druckman & Cook 2014; Druckman & Bolsen 2011; Kahan, Braman, Cohen, Gastil & Slovic 2010) that investigate “cultural cognition,” a theoretical operationalization of motivated reasoning directed at explaining conflict over societal risks (Kahan 2012).

The question whether politically motivated reasoning is “really” driven by “ideology” or “culture” or some other abstract basis of affinity is ill-posed. One might take the view that myriad commitments—including not only political and cultural outlooks but religiosity, race, gender, region of residence, among other things—figure in politically motivated reasoning on “certain occasions” or to “some extent.” But much better would be to recognize that none of these is the “true” source of the predispositions that inform politically motivated reasoning. Measures of “left-right” ideology, cultural worldviews, and the like are simply indicators of Click it! C'mon-- you know you want to!—imperfect, crude proxies for—a latent or unobserved shared disposition that orients information processing. Studies that use alternative predisposition constructs, then, are not testing alternative theories of “what” motivates politically motivated reasoning. They are simply employing alternative measures of whatever it is that does (Kahan, Peters et al. 2012). 

The only reason there could be for preferring one scheme for operationalizing these predispositions over another is its explanatory, predictive, and prescriptive utility. One can try to explore this issue empirically, either by examining the psychometric properties of alternative latent-variable measures of motivating dispositions (Xue, Hine, Loi, Thorsteinsson, Phillips 2014) or simply by putting alternative ones to practical explanatory tests (Figure 4). But even these pragmatic criteria are unlikely to favor one predisposition measure across all contexts. The best test of whether a researcher is using the “right” construct is what she is able to do with it.


Bolsen, T., Druckman, J.N. & Cook, F.L. The influence of partisan motivated reasoning on public opinion. Polit Behav 36, 235-262 (2014).

Druckman, J.N. & Bolsen, T. Framing, Motivated Reasoning, and Opinions About Emergent Technologies. Journal of Communication 61, 659-688 (2011).

 Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2, 732-735.

Kahan, D.M. Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk. in Handbook of Risk Theory: Epistemology, Decision Theory, Ethics and Social Implications of Risk (ed. R. Hillerbrand, P. Sandin, S. Roeser & M. Peterson) 725-760 (Springer London, Limited, 2012).

Kahan, D., Braman, D., Cohen, G., Gastil, J. & Slovic, P. Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition. Law Human Behav 34, 501-516 (2010).

Kahan, D. M. (2013). Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 407-424

Lodge, M. & Taber, C.S. The rationalizing voter (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ; New York, 2013).

Xue, W., Hine, D.W., Loi, N.M., Thorsteinsson, E.B. & Phillips, W.J. Cultural worldviews and environmental risk perceptions: A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology 40, 249-258 (2014).

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Reader Comments (3)

I think that the "do with it" part is crucial to those that would like to drive ideological or marketing outcomes, and thus needs to be of serious interest to those that wish to promote rational discourse. I think that the only reason for placing these on an x y axis or even a two dimensional quadrant scheme has to do with ease of handling the data, and in the case of politics because decisions have to also be squeezed into choices between the two political candidates or in a yes/no vote. Of course humans are more complex than that.

March 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

I believe that it is good, as was done in previous posts, to include the outlook of political scientists like Gaurav Sood. I think it would be excellent to include historians, and even economists, since I think that there are parallels between current times of economic and political polarization and historical ones that would be instructive. I believe that anthropology and sociology might provide a framework for the following:

"The question whether politically motivated reasoning is “really” driven by “ideology” or “culture” or some other abstract basis of affinity is ill-posed. " Isn't culture a complex and multi-layered thing? Can't the same people be induced to respond using different processes depending on such things as time, place and the other people surrounding them?

Isn't the whole point of learning more about culturally cognitive processes, as they relate to science communication, to increase what are seen, in the Liberal Republic of Science, to be desirable reasoning processes in which evidence is carefully weighed and actions well considered? And, over time, where decisions can be made and actions efficiently taken while still leaving open the possibility that adjustments are undertaken according to new evidence?

Current examples of the need for more attention to science communication, and their relationship to motivated reasoning and cognitive reflection processes:

This, is demogogary:

It ss not actually exactly the same as this:

but the emotion over reason reaction and fear raising can be similar.

Much that the public might think of as science communication actually isn't: For example:

At this point in time, the evidence pointing to a linkage between the Zika virus and microcephaly appears to be very strong. Most definitely strong enough that serious efforts need to be made to combat the mosquitoes that are known to be responsible for the spread of Zika, At the same time, people raising the potential of other possibilities are not, actually, "dangerous conspiracy theorists". They are, in many cases, genuine scientists.

They are, in nearly all cases, the scientifically curious. They are using the mechanisms that drive science forward. What about this, and how about that? Thoughts that the should point in the direction of further evaluation. The very sort of people who were willing to discount what they'd previously been told to be and probably believed to be, scientifically determined to be true, that Zika was a rather mild illness, not recognized as causing microencephaly. People who were willing to discount that and look in the direction pointed to by new evidence.

The CDC, while aggressively moving to combat Zika actually uses very careful language as to what is known about cause and effect. Furthermore, if the reader did not know enough about rumors regarding Zika, some of which have already been demonstrated to be false, Michael Spector offers a handy compilation. Some of the items on this list just might zing in to the listeners own internal susceptibility to fear. But meanwhile authors and media outlets gather readers and revenue.

The reason for the study of various "scheme[s] for operationalizing these predispositions" would be to effectively counter them where they are recognized to have been employed in a manner that defeats reason.

Raise your right hand if you agree.

March 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

@Gaythia-- I'm raising my feet.

which historians or economists would you like? I recently invited Charles Beard and Gary Becker to do guest posts; still wating to hear back.

March 9, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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