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Health Care Skeptics Are ‘Irrational’

From those relentless logicians at the self-styled Live Science:

Health Care Debate Based on Total Lack of Logic

Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer

Heated partisan debate over President Obama’s health care plan, erupting at town hall meetings and in the blogosphere, has more to do with our illogical thought processes than reality, sociologists are finding.

The problem: People on both sides of the political aisle often work backward from a firm conclusion to find supporting facts, rather than letting evidence inform their views.

The result: A survey out this week finds voters split strongly along party lines regarding their beliefs about key parts of the plan. Example: About 91 percent of Republicans think the proposal would increase wait times for surgeries and other health services, while only 37 percent of Democrats think so.

Irrational thinking

A totally rational person would lay out – and evaluate objectively – the pros and cons of a health care overhaul before choosing to support or oppose a plan. But we humans are not so rational, according to Steve Hoffman, a visiting professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo.

"People get deeply attached to their beliefs," Hoffman said. "We form emotional attachments that get wrapped up in our personal identity and sense of morality, irrespective of the facts of the matter."

And to keep our sense of personal and social identity, Hoffman said, we tend to use a backward type of reasoning in order to justify such beliefs.

Similarly, past research by Dolores Albarracin, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has shown in particular that people who are less confident in their beliefs are more reluctant than others to seek out opposing perspectives. So these people avoid counter evidence all together. The same could apply to the health care debate, Albarracin said.

"Even if you have free press, freedom of speech, it doesn’t make people listen to all points of view," she said.

Just about everybody is vulnerable to the phenomenon of holding onto our beliefs even in the face of iron-clad evidence to the contrary, Hoffman said. Why? Because it’s hard to do otherwise. "It’s an amazing challenge to constantly break out the Nietzschean hammer and destroy your world view and belief system and evaluate others," Hoffman said.

Just the facts you need

Hoffman’s idea is based on a study he and colleagues did of nearly 50 participants, who were all Republican and reported believing in the link between the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Saddam Hussein. Participants were given the mounting evidence that no link existed and then asked to justify their belief.

(The findings should apply to any political bent. "We’re not making the claim that Democratic or liberal partisans don’t do the same thing. They do," Hoffman said.)

All but one held onto the belief, using a variety of so-called motivated reasoning strategies. "Motivated reasoning is essentially starting with a conclusion you hope to reach and then selectively evaluating evidence in order to reach that conclusion," explained Hoffman’s colleague, sociologist Andrew Perrin of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

For instance, some participants used a backward chain of reasoning in which the individual supported the decision to go to war and so assumed any evidence necessary to support that decision, including the link between 9/11 and Hussein.

"For these voters, the sheer fact that we were engaged in war led to a post-hoc search for a justification for that war," Hoffman said. "People were basically making up justifications for the fact that we were at war."

Their research is published in the most recent issue of the journal Sociological Inquiry.

Hot health care debate

The proposed health care plan has all the right ingredients for such wonky reasoning, the researchers say.

The issue is both complex (no single correct answer), emotionally charged and potentially history-changing, while debates often occur with like-minded peers in town hall settings. The result is staunch supporters and just-as-staunch critics who are sticking to their guns.

"The health care debate would be vulnerable to motivated reasoning, because it is, and has become, so highly emotionally and symbolically charged," Perrin said during a telephone interview, adding that images equating the plan with Nazi Germany illustrate the symbolic nature of the arguments.

In addition, the town hall settings make for even more rigid beliefs. That’s because changing one’s mind about a complex issue can rattle a person’s sense of identity and sense of belonging within a community. If everyone around you is a neighbor or friend, you’d be less likely to change your opinion, the researchers say.

"In these one-shot town hall meetings, where you have an emotionally laden complex issue like health care, it’s very likely you’re going to get these ramped up emotionally laden debates. They’re going to be hot debates," Hoffman told LiveScience.

Two-sided discussion

To bring the facts from both sides to the table, Hoffman suggests venues where a heterogeneous group of people can meet, those for and against the proposed health care system overhaul. And at least some of these gatherings should include just a handful of people. In groups of more than about six people, one or two members will tend to dominate the discussion, he said.

For either side, logical arguments might not be the key.

"I think strategically it’s important that the Obama administration and advocates of a health care plan really pay attention to how people feel and the symbolism they are seeing, and not just the nuts and bolts of the policy," Perrin said. "People don’t reason with pure facts and logic alone."

Mind you, this is to be expected from a website that posted the laughably de-bunkable article: Majority of Americans Believe Health Care Reform ‘Myths’.

Of course what can one expect from a site whose current most popular topics are:

Animal Sex – Animal sex is at least as strange and varied …

Sex – Sex and sexuality is about more than just …

Flu – Each year anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of …

Science of Sex – Sally Law’s Science of Sex column reveals …

It’s almost as if they are really a serious science journal after all.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

10 Responses to “Health Care Skeptics Are ‘Irrational’”

  1. ilzito guacamolito says:

    Riiiight. I just knee-jerked into the anti-ObamaCare camp, because I am irrational. I didn’t look at the lessons learned from the UK and Canada.

  2. U NO HOO says:

    “”People get deeply attached to their beliefs,””

    Yeah, my belief is in The Constitution, including its Amendments.

    • mrbeverage says:

      they like to substitute the phrase i prefer, “core principles”, with the word “belief” in an attempt to substitute/disguise our rational thought with the appearance of being emotional.

  3. proreason says:

    What rational person could possibly imagine that a complete redesign of the most complex system ever created (other than major wars) would be anything other than a disaster? And even more hilariously, the “template” is Medicare, a system with an unfunded liability equal to 3 or 4 times the annual economic product of the United States.

    It’s really not a question of rationality. It’s a question of basic intelligence.

    They really believe we are idiots.

  4. Liberals Demise says:

    Forgot unPatriotic and fringe lunatics!!

  5. Right of the People says:

    I’m not skeptical at all about it, I KNOW it won’t work.

    Notice how they only work with Republicans to develop their data. In these whackadoodle’s minds, its the democraps that are the rational ones. The same democraps who when you confront them with facts begin to scream that you’re a ( you choose your favorite) a Nazi or a racist. Now that’s rational. Talk about junk science.

    “Even if you have free press, freedom of speech, it doesn’t make people listen to all points of view,” she said. Yep, she’s right about that, and the libwits prove it every day.

  6. electionhangovervictim says:

    “Similarly, past research…has shown in particular that people who are less confident in their beliefs are more reluctant than others to seek out opposing perspectives. So these people avoid counter evidence all together.”

    So why does that automatically apply to anyone who opposes this reform plan?? From what I can tell, those in opposition are VERY confident in their beliefs. And from my own point of view, I gladly welcome the “opposing perspective”. I search out arguments in favor of the healthcare reform bill because I WANT someone to convince me it’s the way to go. As of yet, no one has been able to do that.

  7. matrix12x says:

    Our dem congressman on LI NY moved his town hall two day before it is to be held and is loading the front seats with partisan hacks and union thugs. It takes place tomorrow.

    So being irrational like we are presented in this article, I suppose I will go and ignore opposing perspective and say irrational things tomorrow.

    in the end When gov’t gets it’s tentacles in things it tends to overreach and screw up. But heck if there was not so much gov’t waste and they were efficient we would all be slaves now.

  8. proreason says:

    Victor Davis Hanson finally gets it.

    It ain’t about Health Care. It ain’t about the economy. It ain’t about the environment.

    It’s about power. It’s about a fundamental restructuring of the country, with Obamy and his cronies on top, and the rest of us way way way on the bottom.


    Thank God some really smart influential people are beginning to get it.

    Glenn Beck got Karl Rove going a bit on his show today as well. (Glenn is one of the few who really get it. Rush does too. I’m not sure Hannity fully gets it yet either. He seems to be hung up on the Socialism aspect of the strategy.)

    Dubya needs to speak out soon. And Newt and Romney need to begin calling it what it is. A fascist coup, halfway complete.

    The criminal maniacs may be closer to closing the vise than we think.

  9. canary says:

    I want to know the rush in this. People are not dying in the streets. Let the govt start a program for the small percentage of those that don’t have it. A test. This bullying is because of a push for communism. Period. The insanity of not just Congress, but the President making health decisions.
    The liberals pushing this are in two categories. Those wanting socailism/communism, or just ignorant and lacking common sense.

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