Epistemic Spillovers: Learning Others’ Political Views Reduces the Ability to Assess and Use Their Expertise in Nonpolitical Domains

24 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2018 Last revised: 6 Jun 2018

Joseph Marks

University College London - Division of Psychology and Language Sciences

Eloise Copland

University College London

Eleanor Loh

University College London

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Tali Sharot

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology

Date Written: April 13, 2018

Abstract

On political questions, many people are especially likely to consult and learn from those whose political views are similar to their own, thus creating a risk of echo chambers or information cocoons. Here, we test whether the tendency to prefer knowledge from the politically like-minded generalizes to domains that have nothing to do with politics, even when evidence indicates that person is less skilled in that domain than someone with dissimilar political views. Participants had multiple opportunities to learn about others’ (1) political opinions and (2) ability to categorize geometric shapes. They then decided to whom to turn for advice when solving an incentivized shape categorization task. We find that participants falsely concluded that politically like-minded others were better at categorizing shapes and thus chose to hear from them. Participants were also more influenced by politically like-minded others, even when they had good reason not to be. The results demonstrate that knowing about others’ political views interferes with the ability to learn about their competency in unrelated tasks, leading to suboptimal information-seeking decisions and errors in judgement. Our findings have implications for political polarization and social learning in the midst of political divisions.

Suggested Citation

Marks, Joseph and Copland, Eloise and Loh, Eleanor and Sunstein, Cass R. and Sharot, Tali, Epistemic Spillovers: Learning Others’ Political Views Reduces the Ability to Assess and Use Their Expertise in Nonpolitical Domains (April 13, 2018). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 18-22. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3162009 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3162009

Joseph Marks

University College London - Division of Psychology and Language Sciences ( email )

26 Bedford Way
London, WC1H 0AP
United Kingdom

Eloise Copland

University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Eleanor Loh

University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Tali Sharot

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology ( email )

London
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://affectivebrain.com

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