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Personal Growth

How Our Brain Bungles Facts

Why does more education lead to less accurate beliefs? The answer returns us to the difference between rational voters (what we think we are) and rationalizing voters (what we really are).

What’s the Latest Development?

Is the “birther debate” over now that the House White has released the President’s birth certificate? Don’t count on it, says Jonah Lehrer. He references several studies that demonstrate the extent of our political rationalizations. One conducted by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels showed that: “During the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the budget deficit declined by more than 90 percent. However, when Republican voters were asked in 1996 what happened to the deficit under Clinton, more than 55 percent said that it had increased.” More perplexing still is that the better-informed subjects were no more objective than their less-well-read contemporaries.

What’s the Big Idea?

Numerous studies demonstrate how consistently we rationalize away inconvenient facts while simultaneously believing that only objective evidence moves our eminently rational minds. More frightening still, the more educated among us are “better” at deflecting inconvenient data away from our already-determined world view. “The reason knowing more about politics doesn’t erase partisan bias is that voters tend to only assimilate those facts that confirm what they already believe,” says Lehrer. If we remain aware that bias is inherent in decision making, we should be more open to evidence that contradicts our own knowledge. 


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