Ryan McKay, Royal Holloway, University of London

Friday, March 1, 2019 - 12:00pm
PNI Lecture Hall A32

“Belief Formation in a Post-Truth World”

In 2019 we inhabit a “post-truth” world where scientific evidence and accurate information must compete with appeals to emotion and “fake news”. In this talk I will attempt to shed some light on the human tendency to believe “alternative facts”. For one thing, individuals tend to restrict the amount of information they collect when forming beliefs, “jumping to conclusions” on limited evidence. In an era where dubious claims are routinely propagated by highly visible individuals, this tendency may have disastrous ramifications. In recent work we have shown that when individual decision-makers have access to the data-gathering behaviour of others, the rate of premature decisions amplifies, increasing the rate of incorrect, costly decisions. Alongside a generalized tendency to jump to conclusions when forming beliefs, humans seem disposed to form “motivated” beliefs. In particular, we are prone to a desirability bias, being less inclined to critique evidence – and more inclined to accommodate it – if it supports what we want to believe. Such motivated reasoning may be performed in the service of signaling commitment to cultural groups upon which individuals depend. Unfortunately, more educated partisans seem better equipped to reason about and discredit politically uncongenial evidence; thus, causing greater polarization in beliefs as cognitive sophistication increases.

Faculty Host: Tania Lombrozo

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