Misconceptions, Misinformation, and the Logic of Identity-Protective Cognition
Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper Series No. 164
Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 605
9 Pages Posted: 24 May 2017 Last revised: 28 Jun 2017
Date Written: May 24, 2017
This paper supplies a compact synthesis of the empirical literature on misconceptions of and misinformation about decision-relevant science. The incidence and impact of misconceptions and misperceptions, the article argues, are highly conditional on identity protective cognition. Identity protective cognition refers to the tendency of culturally diverse individuals to selectively credit and dismiss evidence in patterns that reflect the beliefs that predominate in their group. On issues that provoke identity-protective cognition, the members of the public most adept at avoiding misconceptions of science are nevertheless the most culturally polarized. Individuals are also more likely to accept misinformation and resist the correction of it when that misinformation is identity-affirming rather than identity-threatening. Effectively counteracting these dynamics, the paper argues, requires more than simply supplying citizens with correct information. It demands in addition the protection of the science communication environment from toxic social meanings that fuse competing understandings of fact with diverse citizens’ cultural identities.
Keywords: fake news, misinformation, science communication, identity protective cognition
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