The Cognitive Power of Partisanship

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Originally posted on September 23, 2016.

As the current U.S. presidential campaign richly illustrates, “motivated reasoning” powerfully sways how we view reality.

Researchers have long known that people’s gut-level liking or disliking of a candidate channels their perceptions and beliefs. When a Democrat is President, Democrats have said presidents can’t do anything about high gas prices. Republicans have said the same when a Republican is president. But when the president is from the opposing party, both believe presidents can affect gas prices.

In the late 1980s, most Democrats believed inflation had risen under Republican president Ronald Reagan (it had dropped). In 2016, reports Public Policy Polling “Republicans claim by a 64/27 spread that [under Obama] unemployment has increased and by a 57/27 spread that the stock market has gone down.” Actually, the stock market has nearly tripled and unemployment (shown below) has plummeted. Alas, politics trumps facts. Big time. As an old Chinese proverb says, “Two-thirds of what we see is behind our eyes.”


About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see