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The Mechanics of Motivated Reasoning

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  • Nicholas Epley
  • Thomas Gilovich

Abstract

Whenever we see voters explain away their preferred candidate's weaknesses, dieters assert that a couple scoops of ice cream won't really hurt their weight loss goals, or parents maintain that their children are unusually gifted, we are reminded that people's preferences can affect their beliefs. This idea is captured in the common saying, "People believe what they want to believe." But people don't simply believe what they want to believe. Psychological research makes it clear that "motivated beliefs" are guided by motivated reasoning--reasoning in the service of some self-interest, to be sure, but reasoning nonetheless. People generally reason their way to conclusions they favor, with their preferences influencing the way evidence is gathered, arguments are processed, and memories of past experience are recalled. Each of these processes can be affected in subtle ways by people's motivations, leading to biased beliefs that feel objective. In this symposium introduction, we set the stage for discussion of motivated beliefs in the papers that follow by providing more detail about the underlying psychological processes that guide motivated reasoning.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicholas Epley & Thomas Gilovich, 2016. "The Mechanics of Motivated Reasoning," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 133-140, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:3:p:133-40 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.3.133
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    6. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Rukmini Banerji & Esther Duflo & Rachel Glennerster & Stuti Khemani, 2010. "Pitfalls of Participatory Programs: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Education in India," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, pages 1-30.
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    1. repec:spr:sochwe:v:49:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s00355-017-1070-8 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

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