Po­lit­i­cal be­liefs against new in­for­ma­tion

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Cass R Sun­stein Cass R. Sun­stein is a Bloomberg View colum­nist. He is the au­thor of “#Repub­lic: Di­vided Democ­racy in the Age of So­cial Me­dia” and a co-au­thor of “Nudge: Im­prov­ing De­ci­sions About Health, Wealth and Hap­pi­ness.” Read­ers may email him at c

Let’s start with a little quiz: How at­trac­tive do you think you are, on a scale of 1 to 10? (We’ll get to pol­i­tics soon, I prom­ise.)

Af­ter you’ve given your an­swer, sup­pose you get good news. Some ob­servers have been study­ing your ap­pear­ance. In their view, you are a lot bet­ter look­ing than you think.

Maybe you said 5; if so, the ob­servers said 7. Next ques­tion: Af­ter be­ing in­formed about the ob­servers’ rat­ing, will you sig­nif­i­cantly re­vise your own?

If you’re like most peo­ple, you cer­tainly will. You’ll give it a healthy boost.

Now sup­pose you get some bad news in­stead: The ob­servers ac­tu­ally con­cluded that you are a lot less at­trac­tive than you think. If you said 5, the ob­servers said 3. Af­ter be­ing in­formed about that, will you change your rat­ing a lot?

If you’re like most peo­ple, you won’t. You’ll stick pretty close to 5.

This is a demon­stra­tion of the “good news-bad news ef­fect,” named and dis­cov­ered by econ­o­mists David Eil and Justin M. Rao. In gen­eral, peo­ple are a lot more will­ing to re­vise their opin­ions af­ter get­ting good news than af­ter get­ting bad news, at least with re­spect to a wide va­ri­ety of per­sonal is­sues. For many of us, bad news seems like fake news.

How long do you ex­pect to live? What’s the like­li­hood that you’ll get cancer or heart dis­ease? How prob­a­ble is it that you’ll be trapped in an el­e­va­tor, or that you’ll find mice in your base­ment? Tali Sharot of the Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don has shown that for such ques­tions, and many oth­ers, good news is more likely to alter peo­ple’s views than bad news.

What does that have to do with con­tem­po­rary po­lit­i­cal is­sues? Along with Sharot and other col­lab­o­ra­tors, I have been ex­plor­ing ex­actly that ques­tion. One of our ini­tial find­ings, to be pub­lished soon in the Cor­nell Law Re­view, in­volves cli­mate change.

In our sur­vey, Amer­i­cans who be­lieve that cli­mate change is real, but who are not par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about it, es­ti­mated, on av­er­age, that un­less fur­ther reg­u­la­tory ac­tion is taken, the av­er­age U.S. tem­per­a­ture will in­crease by 3.6 de­grees F by 2100. When they re­ceived good news, to the ef­fect that sci­en­tists have re­cently con­cluded that the planet will get a lot less hot than pre­vi­ously thought, they cut their pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate by nearly one-third — to about 2.6 de­grees F.

But when they re­ceived bad news, to the ef­fect that sci­en­tists have re­cently con­cluded that the planet will get a lot hot­ter than pre­vi­ously thought, their esti- mates did not change at all.

That’s the good news-bad news ef­fect in ac­tion. It’s a lot like peo­ple’s pat­tern of re­sponses to the how-at­trac­tive-are-you ques­tion.

The same ef­fect is al­most cer­tainly at work for other po­lit­i­cal is­sues, and it helps to ex­plain why some be­liefs seem im­per­vi­ous to new in­for­ma­tion. For ex­am­ple, peo­ple on the left may not be much in­flu­enced by ev­i­dence that the Af­ford­able Care Act is caus­ing some se­ri­ous prob­lems, or that big in­creases in the min­i­mum wage are in­creas­ing un­em­ploy­ment. On those is­sues, good news will be a lot more cred­i­ble.

Many Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers are un­likely to be greatly af­fected by in­for­ma­tion about the re­peated con­sti­tu­tional vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by Joe Ar­paio, the for­mer Ari­zona sher­iff who was just par­doned, or by re­ports that the pres­i­dent’s reg­u­la­tory poli­cies are en­dan­ger­ing pub­lic safety and health.

In this light, the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ea­ger­ness to claim that neg­a­tive re­ports are fake news starts to look si­mul­ta­ne­ously smart and sin­is­ter. When­ever the White House la­bels bad news as fake news, it is play­ing on, and work­ing to in­ten­sify, a wide­spread psy­cho­log­i­cal in­cli­na­tion.

Can any­thing be done? Our work on cli­mate change of­fers one up­beat mes­sage. Peo­ple in the mid­dle — mod­er­ates on the cli­mate-change ques­tion — were equally af­fected by good news and bad news. They were will­ing to lis­ten to new sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, re­gard­less of whether the ev­i­dence sug­gested that the prob­lem was less or more wor­ri­some than sci­en­tists had pre­vi­ously thought.

A grow­ing body of work also sug­gests that peo­ple are far more will­ing to be­lieve bad news if it comes from peo­ple they trust, or from peo­ple who seem like them. The source of the news may mat­ter a lot more than the content.

Sup­pose, for ex­am­ple, that some of Trump’s clos­est ad­vis­ers dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves from his state­ments and ac­tions, or sug­gest that he has gone badly off course. If and when that hap­pens, it will re­main pos­si­ble for his sup­port­ers to dis­miss the bad news — but do­ing so will be­come a lot harder.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Korea, Republic

© PressReader. All rights reserved.