What Is Motivated Reasoning?
We are not always—in fact, we are probably not often—the objective, rational creatures we like to think we are. In the past few decades, psychologists have demonstrated the many ways people deceive themselves, all through the very process of reasoning. While indeed our cognitive faculties are a distinguishing feature of humanity—lifting us out of caves and enabling the arts and sciences—they are also rooted in and subject to influence, or bias, by our emotions and deeply ingrained instincts. One of the most significant ways we warp our information processing and decision-making is through motivated reasoning—and we do so outside of our awareness that anything sneaky is going on.
Cognitive scientists see motivated reasoning as a force that operates in many domains; one area being political beliefs. Studies by political psychologists highlight denial of global warming or discrediting its science as an important example of motivated reasoning; some people process scientific information about climate shifts to conform to pre-existing feelings and beliefs. After all, accepting that climate change is real portends unpleasant environmental consequences and would require most people to head them off by making significant changes in lifestyle. Changing one’s mind and changing one’s lifestyle are hard work and people prefer shortcuts; people would rather have the goal fit their ready-made conclusions.