New research has found that, regardless of political affiliation, tribal instincts kick in and people’s ability to think logically suffers when it comes to arguments related to their political belief systems.
But when confronted with the unsound reasoning of opposing groups, people become better able to identify flawed logic, according to researchers, who conducted two studies.
In the first study, the researchers studied ideological belief bias — the tendency to judge logical arguments based on the believability of their conclusions rather than whether or not the arguments’ premises support the conclusions — among 924 liberals and conservatives from YourMorals.org.
Visitors to the site evaluated the logical soundness of classically structured logical syllogisms supporting liberal or conservative beliefs. Of 16 syllogisms, half were structured as sound arguments and half unsound, according to the researchers.
On average, participants correctly judged 73 percent of the syllogisms, the study found. But their ability to judge correctly depended on their political views, researchers noted.
“Liberals were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting conservative beliefs and conservatives were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting liberal beliefs,” said Anup Gampa of the University of Virginia, a lead coauthor of the paper.
In the second study, researchers observed ideological belief bias effects among 1,489 participants from ProjectImplicit.org. The participants in this study were trained in logical reasoning before evaluating political syllogisms using language similar to what they might encounter in popular media.
Even with the training, the ability to analyze arguments fell into the same patterns, the researchers discovered. They found similar patterns of bias in a nationally representative sample of 1,109 liberals and conservatives.
In the era of fake news, these logical fallacies can be even more potent, the researchers warn.
“When two sides don’t share a common view of even seemingly objective facts, these differences become embedded in our collective reasoning ability,” said Sean Wojcik, Ph.D., of the University of California, Irvine, a lead coauthor of the paper. “Our biases drive us apart not only in our disagreements about political and ideological world views, but also in our understanding of logic itself.”
The researchers note that when it comes to politics, “we might not be as vigilant as we think” about the logical grounding of our own beliefs and “we might be unreasonably harsh about the logical grounding of the belief of those we disagree with.”
Despite this, being able to hear the other side can open us to our own flawed arguments, the researchers conclude.
The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.