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Why Smart People Are Vulnerable to Putting Tribe Before Truth

Dan M. Kahan: One doesn’t have to be a Nobel prizewinner to figure out which position one’s tribe espouses. But if someone does enjoy special proficiency in comprehending and interpreting empirical evidence, it is perfectly predictable that she’ll use that skill to forge even stronger links between what she believes and who she is, culturally speaking. Now consider curiosity. Conceptually, curiosity has properties directly opposed to those of identity-protective cognition. Whereas the latter evinces a hardened resistance to exploring evidence that could challenge one’s existing views, the former consists of a hunger for the unexpected, driven by the anticipated pleasure of surprise. In that state, the defensive sentries of existing opinion have necessarily been made to stand down. One could reasonably expect, then, that those disposed toward science curiosity would be more open-minded and as a result less polarized along cultural lines. This is exactly what we see when we test this conjecture empirically.

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