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Sunday, June 23, 2019

On the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence: Implications for conspiratorial, moral, paranormal, political, religious, and science beliefs

Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Derek Koehler, & Jonathan Fugelsang
PsyAirXiv PrePrints - Last edited on May 24, 2019

Abstract

Does one’s stance toward evidence evaluation and belief revision have relevance for actual beliefs? We investigate the role of having an actively open-minded thinking style about evidence (AOT-E) on a wide range of beliefs, values, and opinions. Participants indicated the extent to which they think beliefs (Study 1) or opinions (Studies 2 and 3) ought to change according to evidence on an 8-item scale. Across three studies with 1,692 participants from two different sources (Mechanical Turk and Lucid for Academics), we find that our short AOT-E scale correlates negatively with beliefs about topics ranging from extrasensory perception, to respect for tradition, to abortion, to God; and positively with topics ranging from anthropogenic global warming to support for free speech on college campuses. More broadly, the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence was robustly associated with political liberalism, the rejection of traditional moral values, the acceptance of science, and skepticism about religious, paranormal, and conspiratorial claims. However, we also find that AOT-E is much more strongly predictive for political liberals (Democrats) than conservatives (Republicans). We conclude that socio-cognitive theories of belief (both specific and general) should take into account people’s beliefs about when and how beliefs should change – that is, meta-beliefs – but that further work is required to understand how meta-beliefs about evidence interact with political ideology.

Conclusion

Our 8-item actively open-minded thinking about evidence (AOT-E) scale was strongly predictive of a wide range of beliefs, values, and opinions. People who reported believing that beliefs and opinions should change according to evidence were less likely to be religious, less likely to hold paranormal and conspiratorial beliefs, more likely to believe in a variety of scientific claims, and were more political liberal (in terms of overall ideology, partisan affiliation, moral values, and a variety of specific political opinions). Moreover, the effect sizes for these correlations was often large or very large, based on established norms (Funder & Ozer, 2019; Gignac & Szodorai, 2016). The size and diversity of AOT-E correlates strongly supports one major, if broad, conclusion: Socio-cognitive theories of belief (both specific and general) should take into account what people believe about when and how beliefs and opinions should change (i.e., meta-beliefs). That is, we should not assume that evidence is equally important for everyone. However, future work is required to more clearly delineate why AOT-E is more predictive for political liberals than conservatives.

A preprint can be downloaded here.

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