Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Motivated reasoning

In the context of the psychological theory of motivated reasoning, this makes a great deal of sense. Based on pretty indisputable observations about how the brain works, the theory notes that people feel first, and think second. The emotions come faster than the “rational” thoughts—and also shape the retrieval of those thoughts from memory.
Chris Mooney @Mother Jones

Motivated reasoning is a term that describes how our emotions shape the way we think about things, even before we have chance to rationalize about them.  It's a fancy way of saying that we feel first then look for a reason to back up our feeling.  Great marketers know this, and have been using it to market us things that we don't really need.  By making us feel certain way, we are not rationalizing why we need to buy things.  Instead we feel that we have to get it.

As Mooney points out in his Mother Jones article, this works in destructive ways as well.  When trolls engage in emotional attacks of others in the community by making derogatory comments, people tend not to engage in rational discussion.  Instead what happens is that people retreat to their existing belief system and constructive conversation is the first thing to suffer.  If it continues without being addressed, the environment will become hostile to new ideas and people will get more deeply entrenched to their own beliefs.

It's also important to remember that all of us are subject to motivated reasoning.  Not just in an emotionally charged situation, but in any situation where we are asked to make a quick judgement about something.  We first apply our experiences to figure out what to feel about the new thing.  Then our head catches up with our feeling to justify what we felt.

In order to compensate for this motivated reasoning, one technique that I use is to make a pros-and-cons comparison note.  When I list out pros and cons, I am detaching myself from my original feeling about the subject.  I get to be linear and mechanical about enumerating what I perceived to be pluses and minuses.  Then when I am done with the list, I get to see the entire picture in a new light.  Just seeing the entire list laid out visually helps me look at it from a new perspective.

What is your way of dealing with motivated reasoning?

Often we take a position and find reasons to defend our position.
First step to fight this: be aware that we are all prone
to make this mistake by nature.
Source: http://www.dilbert.com/

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