The Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm

Emerging Trends in Social & Behavioral Sciences, Forthcoming

24 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2015 Last revised: 12 Mar 2016

Date Written: December 14, 2015


Recent research in decision science identifies politically motivated reasoning as the source of persistent public conflict over policy-relevant facts. This paper presents a basic conceptual model — the “Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm” (PMRP) — that summarizes the salient features of this form of information processing. The experimental design best suited for studying hypotheses relating to PMRP, it argues, measures the weight that subjects attach to one and the same piece of evidence conditional on the manipulation of its perceived significance for positions associated with competing cultural or political values. The paper also discusses various additional methodological and substantive issues, including alternative schemes for operationalizing “motivating” political predispositions; the characteristics of valid samples for examining politically motivated reasoning; the rationality of politically motivated reasoning; the “symmetry” of this mechanism of cognition across opposing political or cultural group; the impact of offering monetary incentives for unbiased political information processing; and the potential biasing impact of politically motivated reasoning on experts. The paper concludes by identifying the centrality of PMRP to the emerging science of science communication.

Keywords: politically motivated reasoning, cultural cognition, Bayesian information processing, political polarization

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., The Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm (December 14, 2015). Emerging Trends in Social & Behavioral Sciences, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States


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