Party loyalties hinder the brain’s ability to get a handle on reality

Party loyalties hinder the brain’s ability to get a handle on reality. By David D’Amato.

Recent research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques is allowing us to peer into the connections, yet shrouded in mystery, between local brain activity, cognitive processes, and partisan attachment. …

The social dynamics of group membership and participation are programmed more deeply into our brains than is abstract philosophizing. “In other words, people will go along with the group, even if the ideas oppose their own ideologies — belonging may have more value than facts.” …

NYU researchers Jay J. Van Bavel and Andrea Pereira note that “partisanship can alter memory, implicit evaluation, and even perceptual judgments.” …

Join a partisan team and say goodbye to reason, logic, sound judgement, accurate memories, and even basic math.

Once one has chosen and joined a team, she has very little control over her own thoughts. When they are introduced, new data are distorted, misinterpreted, or discarded based on their consistency with what we may describe as a program running in the background: partisanship leads the team member into a cognitive position of unconscious self-deception. …

Similar research on self‐​deception in politics has also confirmed the presence of the Dunning‐​Kruger effect (to summarize, people think they know a lot more than they actually do). Further, the effect is exaggerated within the context of politics, with low‐​knowledge participants describing themselves as even more knowledgeable than usual once partisanship is made a conspicuous factor.

Vitor Geraldi Haase and Isabella Starling‐​Alves posit that the kind of self‐​deception that is such “a major characteristic of political partisanship…probably evolved as an evolutionary adaptive strategy to deal with the intragroup‐​extragroup dynamics of human evolution.” Objective truth, meaning roughly an accurate model of reality, is not important, at least not anywhere near as important, as conformity and indeed submission, which we may associate with social reality. …

What is important to the partisan is not what she believes, but that she aligns her beliefs with those of her team or in-group—or else, as may be the case, that she is loyal to and supportive of the party group despite any real or perceived ideological nonconcurrences. …

Why this blog is not for everybody:

Americans tend to vastly overestimate the differences in political ideology and policy preferences between Democrats and Republicans. In fact, most Americans are not at all ideological, can’t describe ideologies accurately (as their proponents would describe them), and have almost no information on either the history of ideas or the empirical evidence that bears on particular political or policy questions. …

The drawbacks of partisanship:

Partisanship quite literally makes one dumb — or is it that dumb people are just more likely to be committed partisans? [Leor] Zmigrod is careful to point out that the study can’t give us the answer to that question …

As soon as partisanship is introduced, as soon as a question mentions a politician or political party, subjects are unable to accurately assess basic facts. Indeed, remarkably, tinging a question with a political shade renders many subjects unable to answer a simple question even when they are given the answer.

Relatedly, studies have shown that one’s political affiliations even affect her ability to perform basic math: given an operation that yields a statistic contradicting a subject’s partisan view, the subject will tend to question the result rather than updating based on the evidence or attempting to reconcile the new information with her politics. …

The study found that nonpartisans’ brains are different from those of their brainwashed brethren, particularly in “regions that are typically involved in social cognition.”

I used to put obtuse politicized behavior down to self-interest, and confusion about where one’s self interest actually lay. Nope, it’s wired into our evolutionary brain to varying degrees, due to group selection. No wonder so many have such trouble coping with truth. No wonder the partisan left avoid and suppress so many facts.