The Bias That Divides Us by Keith E. Stanovich

The Bias That Divides Us by Keith E. Stanovich

Author:Keith E. Stanovich [Stanovich, Keith E.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: myside bias; motivated reasoning; confirmation bias; memes; epistemic rationality; expressive rationality; identity politics; political correctness; Bayesian reasoning; intelligence; bias blind spot
Publisher: MIT Press

The Great White Whale of the Cognitive Elites: Finding Deficiencies in Trump Voters

Despite the low yield of the psychological research attempting to link conservatism with negative psychological traits, the impetus to find such associations became magnified by the surprising US presidential election results of 2016. Trump’s victory increased the myside bias blind spot among cognitive elites because it seemed to make them even more sure that their political opponents were cognitively deficient.

In September 2016, in collaboration with my colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak, I published The Rationality Quotient (Stanovich, West, and Toplak 2016), which described our attempt to create the first comprehensive test of rational thinking. Because the book is very much an academic volume, we had expected our academic peers to engage with its statistics and technical details, and they began to do just that soon after it was published.

But then the November 8, 2016, United States presidential election intervened.

The tone of the emails I was receiving suddenly changed to gallows humor or outright sarcasm, like “Wow, you’ll sure have a lot to study now” or “We sure need your test now, don’t we?” Many of these emails implied that I now had the perfect group to study—Trump voters—who were obviously irrational in the eyes of my email correspondents.

After the election, I also received many invitations to speak, several with the subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) implication that I surely would want to comment—after first giving my technical talk, of course—on the flawed rational thinking of the voters who had done this terrible thing to the nation. One European conference that solicited my participation had as its theme trying to understand the obviously deficient thinking not only of Trump voters, but of Brexit voters as well. The wordy conference prospectus clearly presumed that every educated person would view any opposition to increased globalization as obviously irrational. As the author of a rational thinking test, I was seen as the ideal candidate to give the imprimatur of science to this conclusion. No less insistent have been friends and relatives who assume that I am the perfect person to affirm their view that a substantial number of people who cast ballots for Trump were irrational in their thinking.

My correspondents certainly reflected the prevailing opinion among cognitive elites in both Europe and America—that psychologically deficient and uninformed voters had endorsed disastrous outcomes that just happened to conflict with the views of the hypereducated (Fuller 2019). Certainly, subsequent to the 2016 election in the United States, high-caliber publications, from the Atlantic (Serwer 2017) to the New Republic (Heer 2016) to the Wall Street Journal (Stephens 2016), were nearly uniform in their relentless portrayal of Trump voters as “racist,” “sexist,” and “xenophobic.” Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Jason Brennan (2016) informed us that “Trump owes his victory to the uninformed” and that his victory was due to “the dance of the dunces.” The agenda was sometimes baldly displayed, as in James Traub’s 2016 essay “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up against the Ignorant Masses.


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