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. 2017 Aug;146(8):1143-1149.
doi: 10.1037/xge0000298. Epub 2017 May 29.

The Heart Trumps the Head: Desirability Bias in Political Belief Revision

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Free PMC article

The Heart Trumps the Head: Desirability Bias in Political Belief Revision

Ben M Tappin et al. J Exp Psychol Gen. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Understanding how individuals revise their political beliefs has important implications for society. In a preregistered study (N = 900), we experimentally separated the predictions of 2 leading theories of human belief revision-desirability bias and confirmation bias-in the context of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Participants indicated who they desired to win, and who they believed would win, the election. Following confrontation with evidence that was either consistent or inconsistent with their desires or beliefs, they again indicated who they believed would win. We observed a robust desirability bias-individuals updated their beliefs more if the evidence was consistent (vs. inconsistent) with their desired outcome. This bias was independent of whether the evidence was consistent or inconsistent with their prior beliefs. In contrast, we found limited evidence of an independent confirmation bias in belief updating. These results have implications for the relevant psychological theories and for political belief revision in practice. (PsycINFO Database Record

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Percentage of participants reporting which candidate they (a) desired to win and (b) initially believed would win the 2016 U.S. presidential election. N = 811.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Mean belief update in each between-subjects condition. Error bars and parentheses denote standard error of the mean. Means are adjusted for absolute Time 1 confidence and are based on the 2 × 2 analysis of covariance model. One unit of update corresponds to a 1% adjustment on the bipolar scale used to measure belief. N = 811.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Distribution of absolute Time 1 confidence in belief about which candidate would win the election. The dashed line denotes the median. N = 811. See the online article for the color version of this figure.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Mean belief update in each between-subjects condition following sample truncation. Error bars and parentheses denote standard error of the mean. Means are unadjusted. One unit of update corresponds to a 1% adjustment on the bipolar scale used to measure belief. N = 370.

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