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« Let me at 'em -- again! SCS returns to the cage to whup on CRT & evolution belief... | Main | Still another cognitive-style steel cage match: CRT vs. AOT go "head to head" on belief in climate change & belief in evolution »

So is AOT measuring AOT? I think so; the steel cage results don't necessarily imply otherwise

This is an excerpt from my and Jonathan aka "cognitive steel-cage match Don King" Corbin's paper on AOT and climate change polarization. I'm posting it as a follow up to my own response to @MaineWayne's perceptive question in response to Jonathan's post from "yesterday" on the grizzly AOT vs. CRT steel cage match.

The results of the study [showing that higher AOT scores magnify rather than mitigate political polarization over the reality of climate change] could be understood to suggest that the standard measure of AOT included in the data we analyzed is not valid.  Actively Open-minded Thinking is supposed to evince a motivation to resist “my side” bias in information processing (Stanovich et al., 2013). Thus, one might naturally expect the individuals highest in AOT to converge, not polarize all the more forcefully, on contested issues like climate change.  Because our evidence contravenes this expectation, it could be that the AOT scale on which our results are based is not faithfully measuring any genuine AOT disposition.

We do not ourselves find this last possibility convincing. Again, the results we report here are consistent with those reported in many studies that show political polarization to be associated with higher scores on externally validated, objective measures of cognitive proficiency such as the CRT test, Numeracy, and science literacy (Lewandowsky & Oberauer 2016; National Research Council 2016; Kahan, 2013, 2016; Kahan et al., 2012).  Because such results do nothing to call these measures into doubt, we do not see why our results would cast any doubt on the validity of the AOT scale we used, which in fact has also been validated in other studies (e.g., Haran et al., 2013; Baron et al. 2015; Mellers et al., 2015). 

Instead we think the most convincing conclusion is that the disposition measured by the standard AOT scale, like the dispositions measured by these other cognitive-proficiency measures, is one that has become tragically entangled in the social dynamics that give rise to pointed, persistent forms of political conflict (Kahan, in press_b). As do other studies, ours “suggest[s] it might not be people who are characterised by more or less myside bias, but beliefs that differ in the degree of myside bias they engender” (Stanovich & West 2008, p. 159). “Beliefs” about human-caused climate change and a few select other highly divisive empirical issues are ones that people use to express who they are, an end that has little to do with the truth of what people, “liberal” or “conservative,” know (National Rsearch Council 2016; Kahan 2015).[1]


[1] Science curiosity might be an individual difference in cognition that evades this entanglement and promotes genuine  receptivity to counter-attitudinal evidence among persons of opposing political outlooks (Kahan et al. in press).


Baron J, Scott S, Fincher K, and Metz, SE (2015) Why does the cognitive reflection test (sometimes) predict utilitarian moral judgment (and other things)? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 4: 265-284.

Haran U, Ritov I, and Mellers BA (2013) The role of actively open-minded thinking in information acquisition, accuracy, and calibration. Judgment and Decision Making 8: 188.

Jost JT, Glaser J, Kruglanski AW, and Sulloway FJ (2003) Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psych. Bull. 129: 339-375.

Jost JT, Hennes, EP, and Lavine H (2013) “Hot” political cognition: Its self-, group-, and system-serving purposes. In: Carlson DE (ed.) Oxford handbook of social cognition. New York: Oxford University Press, 851-875.

Kahan DM (2013) Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection. Judgment and Decision Making 8: 407-424.

Kahan DM (2016) “Ordinary science intelligence”: a science-comprehension measure for study of risk and science communication, with notes on evolution and climate change. J. Risk Res., available at

Kahan DM, Landrum AR, Carpenter K, Helft L, and Jamieson KH Science curiosity and political information processing (in press). Advances in Political Psychology. Available at:

Kahan DM, Peters E, Dawson E and Slovic P (2013) Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government. Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper No. 116. Available at:

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

Kahan, DM (2015). Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Political Psychology, 36, 1-43.

Lewandowsky S, and Oberauer (2016) Motivated Rejection of Science. Current Directions in Psych. Sci., DOI: 10.1177/0963721416654436.

Mellers, B, Stone, E, Atanasov, P, Rohrbaugh, N, Metz, SE, Ungar, L, Bishop, M., Horowitz, M, Merkle E and Tetlock, P  (2015)  The psychology of intelligence analysis: Drivers of prediction accuracy in world politics. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 21: 1-14.

National Research Council (2016) Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts and Consequences: A Report of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Wash. DC: National Academies Press.

Stanovich, K and West R (2008) On the failure of intelligence to predict myside bias and one-sided bias. Thinking & Reasoning 14: 129-167.

Stanovich KE, West RF, and Toplak ME (2013) Myside bias, rational thinking, and intelligence. Current Directions in Psychological Science 22: 259-264.

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Reader Comments (5)

"Because our evidence contravenes this expectation, it could be that the AOT scale on which our results are based is not faithfully measuring any genuine AOT disposition."

Does a tendency to seek out information contrary to your expectations/beliefs imply you're going to be open-minded about it?

And does self-reporting your belief that you try to keep an open mind imply you do actually have one?

August 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Does a tendency to seek out information contrary to your expectations/beliefs imply you're going to be open-minded about it?

No, but apparently it's at least correlated. You do raise the possibility that we're looking at a naturally curious population who are also more open-minded for other reasons, and that successfully inducing curiosity in people who are not naturally curious won't have a depolarizing effect in them. But it's worth trying! And we haven't found the "other reasons" yet, have we?

And does self-reporting your belief that you try to keep an open mind imply you do actually have one?

Apparently not. It certainly matches my own experience that people who think themselves (or know themselves to be) more open-minded allow themselves to hold views more extremely, and thus become more partisan.

August 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@NiV & @dypoon--

We take up this question -- whether exposing oneself to information contrary to one's beliefs means one is engaging it open-mindedly -- in our Science Curiosity & Political INformation Processing paper.

Obviously the answer is unclear; one would have to examine separately how people engage the information they are exposoing themselves to to know.

But if it were the case that people who are disposed to seek out or expose thsemves to counter-attitudinal information were doing so just to *argue back* against it (partisans enjoy that, too), then one would expect those who are disposed to seek out counter-attitudinal infomation to be just as polarized on issues like climate change & evolution etc as others.

They aren't. They are less so.

That's a reason for thinking the disposition to seek out counter-attitudinal information is an incidence of open-mindedness generally.

The inference isn't iron-clad-- but if you want iron-clad inferences, then you are in the wrong universe!

But of course it's not wrong to want more -- say, an aluminum-clad inference to go w/ this tin-clad one.

August 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Is it just a correlation that curious people are actually more open-minded? It seems obvious to me that if you were not interested in changing your mind about X, then you would never seek information about X. It's just the contrapositive of that statement that if you would seek information about Y, you are interested in changing your mind about Y. So from my experience alone, I'd definitely say that curious people are inherently more open-minded.

Now, others may not be like me; if I am seeking to argue that it's only a correlation, then I would be looking for someone who is seeking information about X despite not being interested changing their mind about X. The first place I would look is at students writing papers for school classes, where they are forced to construct positions for credit about which they don't really care one way or the other. And the overwhelming pattern in that context is that people of all stripes (I remember my own student work!) are much, much worse at thinking about ideas they don't actually care about. The only people who ever write essays worth reading are the ones who have a viewpoint to espouse in the first place.

So running with this idea of what people care about shaping how well they think, I think measuring AOT doesn't really gauge how large their sphere of concern is, while high scores on SCS and the other curiosity measures (like the ones about having gone to gun shows, amusement parks, etc.) are uniformly associated with a larger sphere of concern - at very least, a wider diversity of things and ideas gives more curious people more joy. In the vein of eliminating alternative hypotheses, maybe it would be worth looking at if having a wider sphere of concern itself induces depolarization?

Does Pew data track how big Americans like to think of their world as being?

August 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

Partially responding to dypoon's question above: "Does Pew data track how big Americans like to think of their world as being?" I think an expansion is how much are people focused on the day to day and not the future?

Re-quoted in the paper cited above:

"Individuals’ personal beliefs have no meaningful impact on their exposure to societal risks like climate change. Those beliefs, however, do activate affective stances that convey individuals’ membership in and loyalty to important affinity groups—information that will be used by other group members to judge their social competence. Under these conditions, it is expressively rational for individuals to attend to evidence in a manner that conduces to formation of and persistence in beliefs characteristic of their cultural grups (Kahan, in press_a). "

While there isn't much that any typical person's actions could do to affect the rate of global change, policy matters related to climate change can have a direct personal impact. The economic livelihood of many people is directly related to the fossil fuel industry. Politicians that oppose climate change can get funding from corporate interests with a stake in fossil fuel regulation outcomes. Climate change is something for which direct impacts on the average person is likely to be way in the future. Still it can have an immediate impact on the present.

One specific example: In promoting a coal export terminal in NW Washington State, for example, the campaign theme of the promoters was “Jobs Now!”. The Whatcom County coal port was denied by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the basis that it would impact Native American treaty fishing rights. This leads to another, seemingly unrelated issue, but one that affects the same group of individuals, many of whom had ancestors who settled on Native American lands and who presently may view Native American fishing rights as unfair to their own use of these same resources.

Republican Washington State Senator Doug Erickson, a major thorn in the side of Democratic Governor Jay Inslee and his carbon emissions reduction initiatives. (Inslee is the author of Erickson gets funding from fossil fuel connected groups:, and Some of his constituents, berry growers, actgually get direct benefit from warmer, drier, summers. Wet Augusts are a raspberry harvest disaster, and NW Washington is now providing 40% of the nation's berry crop. Warming works as long as they are allowed to pump irrigation water. Which, whether it comes from groundwater or directly from streams, affects the streams and thus salmon runs. Thus, bumping into Native American treaty rights. Dairy farmers may not have the same interest in warming, but they face even greater pressure from environmentalist to regulate their water polluting unlined manure ponds and overuse of manure field spraying.

Do most voters really know much about Inslee's Energy Initiative plans? I doubt it. Still, being part of “Team Climate Denial” does have immediate benefits for individuals.

I saw what I think is a rather nasty tweet from NYT's Paul Krugman, in which he shrugged off the job woes of West Virginia coal miners as being more due to mechanization, than climate change. This is undoubtedly true. Still, for many, the consequences of addressing climate change can be immediate and quite real.

Coupled with mechanization and information processing advances, we have, in my opinion, quite a cultural revolution ahead of us.

August 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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