Monday 7 April 2014

Identity-Protective Cognition

In a recent LessWrong post, I wrote about the psychological and social forces that prevent people from changing their minds. Ezra Klein's How politics makes us stupid is a really good summary of how difficult it is to influence people when they are motivated not to be influenced.

The basic idea behind Identity-Protective Cognition is that people are motivated to believe things that protect their identities because changing identities can be a gruelling process. Holding beliefs unpopular in one's social circles can be costly. Even when a given belief isn't unpopular, the very act of changing one's mind can be shameful and perceived negatively.

But what's in the best interest of the individual is not necessarily in the best interest of the group. The difficulty then is how to educate people when they are individually interested in not believing you. Supplying people with more information is unlikely to be enough. Often, more information makes people even more set in their ways.

The article focuses on the work of Yale Law School's Dan Kahan. It specifically addresses how to prevent so many people from taking indefensible stances on politically-fuelled issues like climate change.
'There is a process in the Office of Management and Budget where every decision has to pass a cost-benefit test,' he says. 'Why isn't there a process in the FDA evaluating every decision for science-communication impact?'
 Agnotologists have focused a lot on climate change because it's such a clear case of the public coming en masse to the wrong conclusion. But while agnotologists think mainly about flows of information, Kahan's research suggests that political disputes don't usually revolve around misunderstandings or lack of information.

As always, the key to making more people believe in climate change is to make it socially valuable for them to believe it. This is what I've repeatedly written about effective altruist ideas on this blog. Sacrifice is the world's worst meme. If you want people to donate more money and more effectively then show them what's in it for them.

No comments:

Post a Comment