By JR on Tuesday, April 10, 2012
I reproduce below some excerpts from a long article about the psychological theories of Chris Mooney. It is headed: "The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed". I first reproduce Mooney's "proof" that conservatives are wrong to be skeptical about global warming and then excerpt his explanation of why that is.
Note that his only evidence for conservatives being wrong about global warming is that they DISAGREE with the authorities on the subject. He then explains that this is because they are authoritarian! The good old Green/Left black-is-white reasoning again! Ya gotta laugh!
Just a small point: He relies heavily in his thinking on the work by Robert Altemeyer on "Right-wing authoritarianism". He evidently overlooks the fact that, like most Leftist psychologists, Altemeyer has no idea what conservatives actually think. As a result, by Altemeyer's own admission, he found that his measure of "Right-wing authoritarianism" did NOT correlate with vote. In other words, about half of Altemeyer's "right wingers" actually voted for Leftist political parties. You can't make this stuff up!
For a short history of the Right-wing authoritarianism trope see here. Background on Altemeyer here.
And Mooney overlooks the point that a tendency to read only what suits you is as at least as good a picture of Warmists as it is of skeptics. He is projecting his own tendencies onto skeptics, in other words
At least two studies have documented that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about this subject.
In a late 2010 survey, Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnick and visiting scholar Bo MacInnis found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” Frequent Fox viewers were less likely to say the Earth’s temperature has been rising and less likely to attribute this temperature increase to human activities. In fact, there was a 25 percentage point gap between the most frequent Fox News watchers (60%) and those who watch no Fox News (85%) in whether they think global warming is “caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.”
In a much more comprehensive study released in late 2011 (too late for Stewart or for PolitiFact), American University communications scholar Lauren Feldman and her colleagues reported on their analysis of a 2008 national survey, which found that “Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with global warming acceptance.” Viewers of the station were less likely to agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and less likely to think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, among other measures.....
Festinger suggested that once we’ve settled on a core belief, this ought to shape how we gather information. More specifically, we are likely to try to avoid encountering claims and information that challenge that belief, because these will create cognitive dissonance. Instead, we should go looking for information that affirms the belief. The technical (and less than ideal) term for this phenomenon is “selective exposure”: what it means is that we selectively choose to be exposed to information that is congenial to our beliefs, and to avoid “inconvenient truths” that are uncongenial to them.
When are people most likely to seek out self-affirming information? Hart found that they’re most vulnerable to selective exposure if they have defensive goals—for instance, being highly committed to a preexisting view, and especially a view that is tied to a person’s core values. Another defensive motivation identified in Hart’s study was closed-mindedness, which makes a great deal of sense. It is probably part of the definition of being closed-minded, or dogmatic, that you prefer to consume information that agrees with what you already believe.
So who’s closed-minded? Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers--tend to have a higher need for closure. Indeed, this includes a group called right-wing authoritarians, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.
Selective exposure has also been directly tested several times in authoritarians. In one case, researchers at Stony Brook University primed more and less authoritarian subjects with thoughts of their own mortality. Afterwards, the authoritarians showed a much stronger preference than non-authoritarians for reading an article that supported their existing view on the death penalty, rather than an article presenting the opposing view or a “balanced” take on the issue. As the authors concluded: “highly authoritarian individuals, when threatened, attempt to reduce anxiety by selectively exposing themselves to attitude-validating information, which leads to ‘stronger’ opinions that are more resistant to attitude change.”
The psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has also documented an above average amount of selective exposure in right wing authoritarians. In one case, he gave students a fake self-esteem test, in which they randomly received either above average or below average scores. Then, everyone—the receivers of both low and high scores—was given the opportunity to say whether he or she would like to read a summary of why the test was valid. The result was striking: Students who scored low on authoritarianism wanted to learn about the validity of the test regardless of how they did on it. There was virtually no difference between high and low scorers. But among the authoritarian students, there was a big gap: 73 percent of those who got high self-esteem scores wanted to read about the test’s validity, while only 47 percent of those who got low self-esteem scores did.
Authoritarians, Altemeyer concludes, “maintain their beliefs against challenges by limiting their experiences, and surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right.”
The evidence on selective exposure, as well as the clear links between closed-mindedness and authoritarianism, gives good grounds for believing that this phenomenon should be more common and more powerful on the political right. Lest we leap to the conclusion that Fox News is actively misinforming its viewers most of the time—rather than enabling them through its very existence—that’s something to bear in mind.