In this fascinating piece on “motivated reasoning,” Ezra Klein of The Washington Post uses scholarly papers and charts to reflect on why 15% of Republicans in a new Ohio poll think Romney deserves more credit for killing Osama Bin Laden than President Obama. The effect has been documented to work the same way for liberals; apparently, we perceive facts through our opinions. Klein has a related piece in The New Yorker about how many Republicans turned against the healthcare mandate after supporting it for decades.
As someone who makes his living providing analyses to decision makers, I wonder how often this kind of bias crops up in business, and if so, how to counteract it? I remember an exquisitely painful day long ago when I recommended against a venture investment that my boss had his heart set on doing. He’d developed a strong faith in the entrepreneur, and he felt that I’d betrayed him because I knew that he wanted to do the deal. Giving your client (or your boss) more disconfirming information when they’re ideologically or emotionally entrenched apparently doesn’t help; it just provokes a backlash.
When I have time, I’m going to read Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. I also have some hope based on this quirky, affectionate story of a “mixed marriage” in this weekend’s New York Times. But I really don’t have an answer on how to manage someone afflicted with motivated reasoning, including myself. Do you?