A new study finds that deeply held beliefs can undermine rationality: When confronted with solutions that challenge deeply held values, people may be inclined to disbelieve the problem.
Psychologists tested hundreds of American adults on their beliefs about climate change and violent crime after proposing solutions involving, respectively, government regulations and gun ownership. Spooked by legally mandated fossil fuel restrictions, conservatives were less likely to accept the best scientific estimates on global temperature changes. Conversely, after being told that looser gun control laws reduced violent crime, liberals were less likely to believe that crime is a problem.
Solution aversion, as the researchers call it, seems to know no partisan bounds. “In any issue where people’s cherished beliefs and identities are in play, you’re probably going to see some amount of solution aversion,” said Troy Campbell, a consumer behavior researcher at Duke University’s business school. “We alter our view of reality to be as flattering as possible.”
Campbell’s new study, co-authored by Duke psychologist Aaron Kay and published in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, belongs to a body of research on what’s known as motivated reasoning: how psychological influences, from emotion to basic physiological traits, influence ostensibly rational thought.