Smart people held on to biases even harder
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Smart people held on to biases even harder

When smart people are faced with challenges to their beliefs, they may use their smarts to defend their biases instead of overcoming them, a recent study found.

Groups of people were given a set of numbers to analyze. They were told the data was related to a study of a skin-rash treatment, and were asked to draw inferences based on the data. Not surprisingly, people with better math skills did a better job analyzing the data.

But there’s more to the story: A second group was presented with a similar set of numbers and also asked to draw inferences. It was basically the same problem, with one difference: This time they were told the study was about gun control.

The polarization was immediate. In fact, the people with the strongest math skills were the most polarized: They were more likely to twist the data to conform to their political beliefs.

Trainers’ take home: Don’t assume that learners with a lot of knowledge in a particular field will be more objective. You may have to work even harder with them to change their thinking.

Kahan, D., et al. (2013). Motivated numeracy and enlightened self-government, The Cultural Cognition Project, Yale Law School, Working Paper No. 116.

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