Motivation and Truthiness

About the Author:

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Assistant Director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation at University of Texas at Austin.

As I’m flying home after such a stimulating conference, my mind is swirling with new ideas and a keen interest in learning what the symposium participants do next. In reflecting on the discussion, an idea that I keep returning to is the role of motivation. Several speakers hinted at its importance. Brendan Nyhan described his research with Jason Reifler which showed that corrections don’t always work. Chris Mooney offered a description of motivated reasoning. In my research, I find that partisan habits of mind, indeed, are quite influential in how we process information and in the information that we select. These habits appear both for liberals and conservatives – neither seems immune.

It strikes me that a helpful next step is understanding circumstances that give rise to short-circuiting these biases. Are there situations where we are more charitable to views unlike our own? What can we learn from these situations? As we create new tools to facilitate exposure to facts, I strongly believe that this effort must be understood in light of the demand for these facts. If citizens are not motivated to engage with facts that disagree with their predispositions, for example, then providing more facts or new tools for displaying facts will not have the desired effect. As my research increasingly turns in this direction, I welcome your thoughts and am eager to continue engaging with the provocative questions raised at the conference.

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