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Political Judgment: Unconscious and Driven by Intuition, Emotion and Morals

In their 2013 book, The Rationalizing Voter, social scientists Milton Lodge and Charles Taber propose a hypothesis about how people usually make political judgments. The mental process is mostly unconscious. Facts and logic are far less influential than psychological factors that include personal intuitions, emotions, morals, self-identity and innate and learned biases. It is not the case that this kind of thinking and the resulting judgments are always objectively wrong. They are often correct.

But when it is wrong, it is usually hard or impossible to offer facts and sound reason, roughly logic, to convince someone to change their minds. This problem is central to politics. For example, it mostly explains why the political left and right in America are so hopelessly divided. The two side see different facts and they apply different conscious reason to the facts they think they see. Presumably, one side is generally more wrong than the other, but it is impossible to convince either side they are more wrong.

The left vs right gulf in perceptions of reality and conscious reason are simply unbridgeable. That can lead to social distrust, intolerance, bigotry and conflict. I argue that this aspect of human cognitive and social biology and behavior, which helped the species survive thousands of years ago, now constitutes an existential threat to civilization and possibly the human species itself.

Lodge and Taber write:

“We are witnessing a revolution in thinking about thinking. Three decades of research in the cognitive sciences, backed by hundreds of well-crafted behavioral studies in social psychology and new evidence from the neurosciences, posit affect-driven dual process models of thinking and reasoning that directly challenge the way we political scientists interpret and measure the content, structure, and relationships among political beliefs and attitudes. Central to such models is the distinction between conscious and unconscious thinking, with hundreds of experiments documenting pervasive effects of unconscious thoughts and feelings on judgment, preferences, attitude change, and decision-making.”

“The central question in the study of political psychology and public opinion is whether citizens can form and update sensible beliefs and attitudes about politics. Though previous research was skeptical about the capacities of the mass public, many studies in the 1980s and early 1990s emphasized the potential merits of simple heuristics in helping citizens to make reasonable choices. In subsequent years, however, motivated reasoning has been impossible to avoid for anyone who follows either contemporary politics or the latest developments in psychology and political science. . . . . It is increasingly difficult for observers to defend micro-level attitude formation and information processing as rational or even consistently reasonable. Evidence continues to mount that people are often biased toward their prior beliefs and prone to reject counter-attitudinal information in the domains of both opinions and politically controversial facts.”

If that is true, it does not bode well for the long-term well-being or survival of civilization and maybe even the human species.

Germaine 6 Apr 6

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When it comes to politics leave emotion out of it.
Morals are a must
Intuition should be for better meant of country based your morals
Self identity if you don't identify as a American first then you should Question your right to vote yourself
Learned can be unlearned as well
The division in America not just between the left and right. Is caused by news, Hollywood, political leader, talk shows, and more by pushing issues that devide. Racism being a bigger problem then it is with the people.
Playing on emotions of the people over issues
Talking one subject repeatedly till me are over reacting with family and others about it. And more.
I see many flaws in this "study" and limited reseach on your part

@Daryl if you put any identity before being A American you should Question your right to vote. I'm not referring to anything thing it's just what it say's
And rely on other studies opinions news sources heavily in your post.
If you take 5 studies on the same topic Question them and come to a determination then i might make more sense to you.
If you read my profile i have nerve damage as hard as i try i still have a hard time correcting my grammer mistakes so i made sure people would know and try to understand

  • " The left vs right gulf in perceptions of reality and conscious reason are simply unbridgeable."

I can't seem to fully agree with this and the rest of that paragraph. An individual can agree with a right wing point on a subject and the left wing on an other.
Left and right are 2 different ideology.
I don't see why it matters if those 2 mix or not.

We as, conscious people who created those terms, get to pick one side or the other and stand between them.

  • Regarding politics and the quote.

There was this person that recently posted something that touched history and the importance of remembering it. The autor of that article said that with internet we get to keep records of this and losing track of what really happened should not be possible but we are somehow doing it because of the overload of information.

I believe its relevant because when you are fed so many information all you are left with (it would seem) is your own unconscious bias. Looking for raw information is not simple enough, we trusted the news but it isnt possible anymore.

Edit: found the article []?


  • You could be right regarding the gap between left and right ideology and political parties.

It might be a consequence of exactly what you were talking about (facts not having enough impact on some peoples decisions).

If the political parties were closer to each other the facts would matter even less ( right or wrong), however with them being a bit more to their extrems, it could tilt some people to one side or the other.

Also, a divided population is easier to make use of during elections. A good majority of the population have their lives on internet, this can be used to understand which idea will get support and which ideas wont. Couple with the fact that most people got their lives on internet, it would not be surprising if they could come close to an approximations of what could work for elections.

Sounds like this division can only grow. I don't really have a formed opinion about how i feel regarding this.

  • Regarding the article and, I did feel like it resonated with some of what you said, thats why i wanted to mention it. Specifically because of the value of facts and how they can be lost/twisted/hidden in all kinds of different ways. Which would leave us with our own emotions and intuitions.

  • The 4 political moral values.

Any political leader could claim that they follow those moral values. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of them. Getting people in power to apply them is just not so simple, particularly if they have an agenda.

  • This part of what you said "doing politics in view of human cognitive biology and social behavior", if it wasn't tied to the 4 political moral values that you mentioned before, would be really scary to me.

It sounded like a very manipulative/patronizing country that would constantly claim that they have the best of the population in mind while doing whatever it wants with it. Very close to a dictature.

I took time to awnser but a few things you said got me wondering quite a bit.


  • I thought that trying to coax people into understanding the biology of politics would lead at least some people to re-examine their true adherence to the morals. That was wrong.

What this asks for is self examination. It can be hard to do for some people and some other just don't like it. Being honest about how you view things and digging up why that is the case can be pretty annoying. I know there were things I started to believe just because I liked the teacher and questioning it was not something i thought about (I liked the way it sounded).

But theres also this issue with morals and it being different between each person that may read what you have to say.
So... what you are tying to do may be a bit more complicated, but not necessarily wrong.

There shouldnt be anything wrong about making little changes about how you view the world.

  • The left vs right belief gap simply isn't bridgeable and it looks like that might lead America into social strife

I don't know if that is the case or not. Presuming its true, the only solutions is if people soften a bit on certain points. People should see the benefits of other people seeing differently than they are, and try to see what they may have in common.

Talking to someone as if "they may know something you do not" is dead in the middle of it.

  • redistribute power somewhat more from special interests to the public interest

Those 4 core values are nice but we have come to the assumption that politicians may already CLAIM that they are following them.
How can they (the 4 core values) help produce this redistribution of power if people can so easily say they are following them? or make any changes really

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