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The Partisan Brain

by Andrew White  |  December 10, 2018  |  Comments Off on The Partisan Brain

Your blogger was tucking into three pancakes, piled with lashings of butter, syrup, and a banana, when he stumbled upon page 33 of this week’s US printed edition of the Economist. There was an article, the title of which is the title of this blog, with the sub-heading: What psychology experiments tell you about why people deny facts.  Factually the pancakes and tasty fair was going down a treat; I was not looking forward to reading the article however.

It turns out that the article was able to impart a level of depression along with a layer of surprise, and then interest. It turns out that we all experience conversation, argument and debate, in our lives. At work or at play, we will often offer a perspective that differs from those around us. But surely facts are facts? Why isn’t it some of my peers cannot see what I see?

The argument put forward in the article is that when we reason with others we may not be reasoning based on facts. We maybe more interested in reasoning how our response secures or establishes our position in the group we are engaging with. A book is mentioned, The Enigma it Reason, in which the authors argue that the way we reason, “[H]elp[s] us justify our beliefs and actions to others…and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us.” As the Economist article suns up, “In other words, a lot of reasoning is devoted to affirming your groups identify and your position within it.”

And there I was thinking that all we did was seek the truth? It maybe that every time we engage in debate, the arguments we hear (and offer) may or may not be factual. And that may not even matter. Yet I have not even mentioned bias; and bias plays a huge and often hidden role in how we interpret (and profess outwardly) our own ideas. It maybe that we all seek less about truth, and care less about bias (on either side). Maybe we care more for our group, and our role in it. Understanding that may help sway your next argument….

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Category: decision-making  economist  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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