Motivated to ignore the facts:
The difficulty of evidence, argument and rationality in reestablishing reality
Classic conceptions of democracy are based, in part, on a vibrant public sphere where citizens are informed and engaged in public deliberation on important topics. Argumentation is central to this vision. Each side builds their case by marshalling the available evidence in support of their preferred conclusion. A rational public, it is assumed, takes in the evidence, evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the competing positions, and updates their opinions. Unfortunately, recent research in neuroscience and political psychology provides a direct challenge to this vision. Rather than evidence and argument shaping our opinions, our opinions shape our interpretation of evidence and argument. Efforts to reestablish a shared reality must account for individual motivations to discount information that is inconsistent with pre-existing attitudes.
Jeffrey Jarman is the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Director of the Elliott School of Communication, a position he has held since 2017. He started at Wichita State in the fall of 1996. For nearly twenty years he served as the director of the university’s competitive debate team. He teaches classes in communication strategy, research methods, and seminars in legal and political communication. His recent research applies insights from neuroscience and political psychology to classic conceptions of argumentation. In particular, he analyzes the role of evidence and argument in presidential debates, fact-checking, and political disputes in the public sphere.