Current Directions in Psychological Science
Efforts to change the attitudes of creationists, antivaccination advocates, and climate skeptics by simply providing evidence have had limited success. Motivated reasoning helps make sense of this communication challenge: If people are motivated to hold a scientifically unorthodox belief, they selectively interpret evidence to reinforce their preferred position. In the current article, I summarize research on six psychological roots from which science-skeptical attitudes grow: (a) ideologies, (b) vested interests, (c) conspiracist worldviews, (d) fears and phobias, (e) personal-identity expression, and (f) social-identity needs. The case is made that effective science communication relies on understanding and attending to these underlying motivations.
This article outlines six reasons people are motivated to hold views that are inconsistent with scientific consensus. This perspective helps explain why education and explication of data sometimes has a limited impact on science skeptics, but I am not arguing that education and facts are pointless. Quite the opposite: The provision of clear, objective information is the first and best line of defense against misinformation, mythmaking, and ignorance. However, for polarizing scientific issues—for example, climate change, vaccination, evolution, and in-vitro meat—it is clear that facts alone will not do the job. Successful communication around these issues will require sensitive understandings of the psychological motivations people have for rejecting science and the flexibility to devise communication frames that align with or circumvent these motivations.