Moral Conviction as an Equal Opportunity Motivator of Science Denial Across the Political Divide
thesisposted on 2015-10-21, 00:00 authored by Anthony N. Washburn
The current study tested if conservatives and liberals are equally likely to deny scientific claims that conflict with their preferred conclusions. Although conservatives have often been credited with being skeptical of scientific information (e.g., climate change, Dunlap, 2008), some evidence suggests that liberals may also be motivated to deny certain scientific claims (e.g., Braman, Kahan, Slovic, Gastil, & Cohen, 2007). Because people are motivated to assess information in ways that bolster their ideological positions (Kahan, 2013) and may be especially motivated to defend attitudes held with moral conviction (Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005), I hypothesized that conservatives and liberals would be equally likely to deny scientific claims that conflict with their preferred conclusions, especially conclusions held with strong moral conviction. Participants were randomly assigned to read about a fabricated study where the results were either consistent or inconsistent with their attitudes regarding one of several issues (carbon emissions, gun control, same-sex marriage, etc.). Participants were asked to interpret the results and decide what the study concluded (e.g., a gun ban either reduced crime or not). After being informed of the correct interpretation, participants rated how much they agreed with, found knowledgeable, and trusted the researchers’ correct interpretation. Overall, both liberals and conservatives were equally likely to engage in motivated interpretation of study results and deny the correct interpretation of those results when that interpretation conflicted with their attitudes. These results were not meaningfully moderated by political orientation or moral conviction. My study suggests that liberals and conservatives may be more alike than different when it comes to science denial and that the same motivational processes underlie differences in the political priorities of those on the left and the right.