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Motivated Reasoning and Affinity Fraud

Every once in a while, I come across new terms that seem important and worth further investigation. Ezra Klein (see book review) used the term motivated reasoning to explain why people hold position that seem to be contradicted by the facts. This seems similar to multiple sources seeing the importance of incentives in determining actions; e.g., "follow the money." Also in Klein's book was "fixed versus fluid, Prius versus Ford pickup," describing differences essentially between conservatives and liberals; plus "identity-protection cognition," closely related to motivated reasoning.

Paul Krugman (see book review) described affinity fraud as being easily gulled by fraudsters that seem to be like ourselves. He referred to Bernie Madoff, a somewhat similar claim to Malcolm Gladwell in Talking to Strangers (see book review). Bernie appeared to be another straight-talking NASDAQ genius. The concept seems to fit my "blinders hypothesis" (another book review).

On to the internet library (and regular paper books).

Motivated reasoning is emotion-based reasoning to justify beliefs or make decisions, rather than follow the evidence in an unbiased manner. It is closely related to confirmation bias, looking for information to confirm a belief. It also fits my blinders hypothesis, looking at the world with a narrow perspective. Motivated reasoning does not use critical thinking skills, which focus on reasoning approached in an unbiased/skeptical manner. Two basic theories exist: 1) goal-oriented motivated reasoning and 2) accuracy-oriented motivated reasoning. Goal-oriented, according to psychologists, means there must be some emotional motivation (including self-interest) at work. Goals can be completed through motivation. It is still a biased set of cognitive processes. The idea of accuracy-oriented reasoning is to increase the quantity and quality of information, leading to less biased results.

Identity-protection cognition is another form of bias. Culturally diverse people accept evidence and opinions and dismiss others based on the beliefs of the group they’re in.

Fixed versus fluid. A fixed model is designed to repeat what was done in the past; that is, it’s static. A fluid model keeps changing. In psychology, people have fixed perceptions or be fluid. The context for Klein is the political divide between conservatives (fixed and wary of social or cultural change) and liberals (fluid). Median voter guy is in the mixed category and probably not in the vanguard of change.

I might point out that the culture as I understood it growing up in the 1940s-50s was racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic. Growth for me (and much of the country) was the discovery that none of these was true and quite hurtful to the people affected. The fixed perspective, reinforced by identity-protection cognition, suggests that many people have resisted these cultural changes.

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