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February 11, 2008

"Why Voters Play Follow-the-Leader"

The title of this post is the title of this Washington Post article.  Here are snippets:

How do we form preferences when we do not fully understand complex issues?  We fall back on heuristics, or mental shortcuts.  New research suggests the most powerful of these is to find leaders with whom we feel cultural kinship -- and then follow whatever they recommend.

"It is much easier to look at someone and say, 'What are those person's values -- are they like mine or not?  If they are like mine, I can trust this person to come up with policies that are in my interest because they share my values,' " said Donald Braman, an anthropologist at George Washington University Law School. "This is what happens in a lot of politics."

In an intriguing set of experiments, Braman, Yale University law professor Dan Kahan and others show that people reduce complex policy matters to a question of personal values.  This simplifies decisions, but it places our conclusions -- and even our perception of facts -- at the mercy of traits that are ultimately arbitrary....

Kahan and Braman found that people did not realize how their views were shaped by personal values.  One implication of the research is that when people clash on hot-button issues, their disagreements may have more to do with clashing values than facts.  One person may conclude nanotechnology is dangerous while another person concludes it is safe, but neither realizes their conclusions are being driven by underlying values that have nothing to do with nanotechnology....

"One of the problems cultural cognition creates is it leads people to have divergent views of the facts, so when they debate one another it seems like they are talking past one another," Braman said.  People think their opponents "are either 'completely ignorant and deluded of the facts that are obvious to me,' or they know the facts but are ignoring them and selecting the facts in a biased and untrustworthy way.  That leads to deep distrust."

The student who alerted me to this article suggested that it might shine some light on the now-raging debates over our final/exam choices (although I hope my initial decision to put this matter up for discussion has not generated too much "deep distrust").  Indeed, I plan to provides some leadership on the debate very soon, and I suppose we will see if students/voters in our class feel a "cultural kinship" and follow my lead on this complex issue.

February 11, 2008 in Interesting outside readings | Permalink


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in case you guys haven't read this yet...Berman, in all his infinite wisdom, was so right...


Posted by: Erin Butcher | Feb 12, 2008 12:41:54 PM

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