How We Support Our False Beliefs
ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2009) — In a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry, sociologists from four major research institutions focus on one of the most curious aspects of the 2004 presidential election: the strength and resilience of the belief among many Americans that Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Although this belief influenced the 2004 election, they claim it did not result from pro-Bush propaganda, but from an urgent need by many Americans to seek justification for a war already in progress.
The findings may illuminate reasons why some people form false beliefs about the pros and cons of health-care reform or regarding President Obama’s citizenship, for example.
The study, “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification” calls such unsubstantiated beliefs “a serious challenge to democratic theory and practice” and considers how and why it was maintained by so many voters for so long in the absence of supporting evidence.
Co-author Steven Hoffman, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo, says, “Our data shows substantial support for a cognitive theory known as ‘motivated reasoning,’ which suggests that rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.
“In fact,” he says, “for the most part people completely ignore contrary information.
“The study demonstrates voters’ ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information,” he explains.
While numerous scholars have blamed a campaign of false information and innuendo from the Bush administration, this study argues that the primary cause of misperception in the 9/11-Saddam Hussein case was not the presence or absence of accurate data but a respondent’s desire to believe in particular kinds of information.
Full report at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090821135020.htm