I was selected as one of fourteen Stanford seniors to participate in the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law honors program, a 15-month program where students conduct independent research projects with support of faculty. The thesis won the “CDDRL Outstanding Thesis Award” for top thesis in the cohort. I was advised by Professor Robb Willer.

The abstract is below:

Escaping the Echo Chamber: Testing Interventions for Reducing Politically Motivated Reasoning

Americans today are susceptible to politically motivated reasoning (PMR), which occurs when individuals selectively interpret evidence in ways that confirm their pre-existing political beliefs and disconfirm opposing views. PMR threatens democracy by deepening political polarization and impeding citizens from agreeing on a shared set of facts on which public policies should be based.

I provide an overview of the mechanisms behind politically motivated reasoning, such as the accuracy vs. identity model of reasoning, and I discuss key conflicts in the literature, such as the conflict between classical reasoning and motivated system two reasoning. I argue that the literature points to three mindsets that may reduce politically motivated reasoning: accuracy, curiosity, and skepticism.

I run an experiment with 600 participants to test the effects of an intervention to reduce politically motivated reasoning. Participants were told to “think like a scientist” and take on one of three scientific mindsets: accuracy, curiosity or skepticism. Participants then took a test of politically motivated reasoning. The curiosity and skepticism mindsets had no significant effect on reducing politically motivated reasoning, with participants in these conditions engaging in slightly more motivated reasoning. By contrast, participants primed to value accuracy engaged in slightly less politically motivated reasoning than those in the other conditions. The majority of the effect was seen among liberals, moderated by cognitive reflection skills. The study also finds, in contrast to earlier work, that individuals who have high numeracy and cognitive reflection skills are less likely to engage in politically motivated reasoning.

I argue that this supports a model of reasoning where accuracy and identity are in conflict, and also supports the classical reasoning theory over the motivated system 2 theory of reasoning. Areas of further research and policy implications are discussed. 

(Image: echo by Gustav Salomonsson from the Noun Project)

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