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 —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).
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).