Being told “Be Rational” doesn’t de-bias

More bias research. I’ve been digging in pretty deeply on interventions that help mitigate motivated reasoning and the results aren’t great. There’s self-affirmation, which I discussed in my Atlantic piece, but beyond that it’s pretty thin picking. Motivated reasoning doesn’t track significantly with open-mindedness, and interventions urging participants to be rational seem to have little to no effect. I’d like to see more work on this because I can imagine better pleas (like explaining basically the pervasiveness of bias, or prompting in-group loyalty to those who consider opposing arguments) but for what it’s worth, here is a bit of a paper measuring self-affirmation that also included rationality prompts:

It is of further theoretical relevance that the self-affirmation manipulation used in the present research and the identity buffering it provided exerted no effect on open-mindedness or willingness to compromise in situations heightening the importance of being rational and pragmatic. This lack of impact of selfaffirmation, we argue, reflects the fact that the identity-relevant goal of demonstrating rationality (in contrast with that of demonstrating one’s ideological fidelity or of demonstrating one’s open mindedness and flexibility) is not necessarily compromised either by accepting counter attitudinal arguments or by rejecting them.Both responses are consistent with one’s identity as a rational individual, provided that such acceptance or rejection is perceived to be warranted by the quality of those arguments.The pragmatic implication of the latter finding is worth emphasizing. It suggests that rhetorical exhortations to be rational or accusations of irrationality may succeed in heightening the individuals’ commitment to act in accord with his or her identity as arational person but fail to facilitate open-mindedness and compromise. Indeed, if one’s arguments or proposals are less than compelling, such appeals to rationality may be counterproductive.Simple pleas for open-mindedness, in the absence of addressing the identity stakes for the recipient of one’s arguments and proposals, are similarly likely to be unproductive or even counterproductive. A better strategy, our findings suggest, would be to provide the recipient with a prior opportunity for self-affirmationin a domain irrelevant to the issue under consideration and then(counterintuitively) to heighten the salience of the recipient’s partisan identity.

More discussion of this phenomenon:

Why did a focus on rationality or pragmatism alone prove a less effective debiasing strategy than the combination of identity salience and affirmation—the combination that, across all studies,proved the most effective at combating bias and closed mindedness? Two accounts seem plausible. First, the goals of rationality and pragmatism may not fully discourage the application of prior beliefs. Because people assume their own beliefs to be more valid and objective than alternative beliefs (Armor, 1999;Lord et al., 1979; Pronin, Gilovich, & Ross, 2004; Ross & Ward,1995), telling them to be rational may constitute a suggestion that they should continue to use their existing beliefs in evaluating the validity of new information (Lord, Lepper, & Preston, 1984).Second, making individuals’ political identity or their identity linked convictions salient may increase the perceived significance of the political issue under debate or negotiation. Because identities are tied to long-held values (Cohen, 2003; Turner, 1991),making those identities salient or relevant to an issue may elicit moral concern, at least when peoples’ self-integrity no longer depends on prevailing over the other party

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