I came across this term in an article on the health care debate on Yahoo. The article elaborated on the irrational reasons as to why people were on both sides of the health care debate. It also contained a definition of motivated reasoning by sociologist Andrew Perrin of the University of North Carolina. He stated that motivated reasoning was essentially about starting with a conclusion that one hoped to reach and then selectively evaluating evidence in order to reach that conclusion.
I’m always interested in understanding how people think and the reasons for why they act a certain way. And, so, I went back to a book that I had read some time back in business school called Inside consumption: consumer motives, goals, and desires by S. Ratneshwar and David Glen Mick. The authors state that individuals are always aspiring to achieve certain goals in life and some of those goals are met through the marketplace in the form of ‘hope.’ They further indicate that the marketplace provides a myriad of ways in which the consumer can buy and possess hope. They also claim that while hope can be had through consumption of goods and services in the marketplace, it is linked to a series of biased cognitive processes called motivated reasoning. Motivated reasoning is defined as a tendency to process information to support a preconceived conclusion or belief. This contrasts with objective reasoning where consumers process facts to arrive at a conclusion.The former involves a motivation to reach a desired conclusion while the latter arrives at a factual or accurate conclusion.
This did not sound very smart to me. Strangely, the health care reform debate has seen most people base their beliefs along party lines rather than intuitive thinking. The age-old argument about medical horror stories about people having to wait for month for an operation or some other flimsy story about the quality of health care in Canada keep popping up in discussions and protests. No one seems to think through their arguments. Confusion abounds about the issue and with ignorance along with ‘the Bachelor’ and ‘American Idol’ as a strong part of people’s lives, it’s no surprise that logical thinking is not part of the mix while considering an opinion or taking a stand on the contentious health care reform.
Ron Paul is clear on why he opposes health care reform. But here’s the thing; he uses logic and a basis to explain his reasoning. He’s not blindly making up assumptions or pointing fingers for the sake of doing so. He believes in free market principles, opposes government intervention in health care on that basis and sticks to that stand.
Benjamin Radford, a columnist at LiveScience asks “Why people aren’t smarter these days?” despite getting free public schooling and being exposed to a greater amount of information than previous generations. Add to that, the fact that more and more college graduates are being produced by the educational system. The answer is education or rather the manner in which education is imparted. Critical thinking, a counterintuitive skill which challenges the status quo is not taught in schools. Students, while being taught to express opinions, are not being taught on how to express them logically with a solid reasoning behind them.
From the Yahoo article, past research by Dolores Albarracin, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, showed that people who are less confident in their beliefs are more reluctant than others to seek out opposing perspectives. So these people avoid counter evidence all together. The same could apply to the health care debate, Albarracin said. Also, in a town hall setting, if a person was surrounded by his friends and neighbors, he would in all probability conform to the prevailing opinion than rattle the cage and have his basic identity and sense of belonging within the community challenged.
It is sad that freedom of thought and speech is still challenged rather than encouraged. With the consumer culture prevalent within the social environment, it hardly surprising that consumers still purchase certain goods with the hope that their unrealistic goals will be met by the product instantly as opposed to thinking ahead and logically understanding how they will use the product at hand realistically to get to where they want. A good examples of this is purchase of exercise equipment.
We have to be careful about motivated reasoning because it encourages biases and illusions when we evaluate products or issues in the marketplace or the political sphere. Breaking out of the mold, however, is another challenge. Perhaps, the best way to start is to adopt Socrates’ technique of asking questions about the raison d’etre of something that matters to you.
If you start doing that, then prepare for the real adventure as the looking glass beckons.