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The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale
March 26, 2011 9:03 PM   Subscribe

The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale looks at the cause of polarizing debates such as: global warming, gun ownership, school shootings, terrorism, nanotechnology, public health, nuclear power, foreign wars and just about every heated thread in Internet history. In short, the polarizing issue is "risk"- the perception of risk, and the proposed solutions to risk. It turns out people see risk in polarizing ways according to where they stand on a scale of cultural beliefs.
According to CCP, people can be graded on two scales of cultural belief: 1) individualistic vs. communitarians, based on the importance people attach to the public good when balanced against individual rights; and 2) hierarchists vs. egalitarians, based on their views on the stratification of society. Republicans are more likely to be hierarchical-individualists, Democrats more often egalitarian-communitarian (these are not deterministic, rather tendencies on a per-issue basis). People's views on contentious issues tend to reflect where they are on these scales. For example hierarchical-individualists tend to reject the evidence of climate change while egalitarian-communitarian tend to accept it. When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures (taxation, regulation), persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation.

Cultural Cognition Projects on other issues:

*Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?
*Gun Risk Perceptions. Who fears guns, who fears gun control, and why?
*Cultural Cognition of the Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology.

Risk theories more generally:

*Cultural Theory of Risk
*Cultural Cognition Hypothesis
posted by stbalbach (46 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great. Another cartesian plane for someone to chart my values and beliefs on.
posted by wobh at 9:08 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are two kinds of people in the world--people who recognize that deliberately-oversimplified theoretical frameworks can provide models that aid understanding and, uh, the other kind.
posted by box at 9:14 PM on March 26, 2011 [26 favorites]


yea, and there seems to be one kind of politician - the kind that stuffs fear associated with risk into the wedges to manipulatively pry the emotions out of folks who could never know what actually goes on in the world (which is just about all of us).
posted by victors at 9:20 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?

Is it because mainstream media outlets lend credence to kooks by giving them equal -- and sometimes higher -- billing as people who actually know stuff about things?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:20 PM on March 26, 2011 [23 favorites]


Where do the numbers work out on the Know About Clothes Y vs the Hair Looks Fierce X axis?
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 PM on March 26, 2011


I pick one issue that my entire peer group/ online community agrees on and argue vociferously against it. Often more than one. I'm not sure why.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:42 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are two kinds of people in the world and thank gawd I'm not one of them.
posted by tspae at 9:45 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


...global warming, gun ownership, school shootings, terrorism, nanotechnology, public health, nuclear power, foreign wars...

Bah. Minor details. The real polarizing debate is Linux versus Windows versus MacOS.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:59 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hierarchical-individualists walk like THIS, but galitarian-communitarian people walk like THIS! Amirite!?!?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:59 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are two kinds of people in the world, people who think there are two kinds of people in the world and people who don't.
posted by Kerasia at 10:01 PM on March 26, 2011


Nanotechnology is a polarizing issue?
posted by Jacqueline at 10:01 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


victors: yea, and there seems to be one kind of politician - the kind that stuffs fear associated with risk into the wedges to manipulatively pry the emotions out of folks who could never know what actually goes on in the world (which is just about all of us).

Then by your own argument, if that were really actually going on, you wouldn't be aware of it....
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:11 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to divide people into dance and rock fans but MeFi has smart/good dance fans so my classification gets messed up. Now it's hippie/Luddite.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:15 PM on March 26, 2011


Can anyone here provide a different approach to determining cultural and individual factors to individual belief and hence activism as opposed to simply making a snide remark in vulgar (unrefined) fashion about the modeling limits of categorical cultural segmentation?

Cause that might be more helpful...

Anywho, relating beliefs to risk tolerance is a fairly novel approach, which you really only see from the burgeoning behavioral economics field. Applied in this way it may have interesting impacts on the dialogue for these polarizing issues in a more transparent way.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 10:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation.

So, as long as there's a handy solution they don't need to deny it outright to prevent that dreaded feeling of conservative helplessness.
posted by Brian B. at 10:37 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ivory tower, latte, Volvo.
posted by pianomover at 10:47 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


These findings have already been introduced by George Lakoff, in what I believe is a more comprehensive treatment of the way the mind works; it's based on cognitive neuroscience research. The Political Mind. It's not a page-turner, but certainly one of the most important books I've read re: why we think the way we do about political issues
posted by Vibrissae at 11:23 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hmm, why does so much of the legal scholarship I like come from Yale?
posted by anigbrowl at 1:10 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


These findings have already been introduced by George Lakoff

I can't help observing that most of the YLS research papers predate the publication of that book, and in turn are based on an anthropological concept called grid-group cultural theory, first articulated in 1970 by Mary Douglas.

Also, quantative analysis of CT in comparison with psychometrics, discussion of methodologies and categorical limitations, etc.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:23 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?

Not in my country. Perhaps that's a hint.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:35 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Bah. Minor details. The real polarizing debate is Linux versus Windows versus MacOS.

Well, I think if you look at Macs vs. Linux, you have Egalitarian communitarian vs. a Hierarchical something or other structure where everything is a gift from the godhead that is Steve Jobs.
Ivory tower, latte, Volvo.
Just out of curiosity I decided to look this up and see where the term 'ivory tower' came from. Did someone actually build a tower out of ivory at some point? Turns out:
In Judeo/Christian tradition, the term Ivory Tower is a symbol for noble purity. It originates with the Song of Solomon (7,4) ("Your neck is like an ivory tower"; in the Hebrew Masoretic text, it is found in 7:5) and was included in the epithets for Mary in the sixteenth century Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary ("tower of ivory", in Latin Turris eburnea), though the title and image was in use long before that, since the 12th century Marian revival at least.[1] It occasionally appears in art, especially in depictions of Mary in the hortus conclusus.
Kind of boring.
posted by delmoi at 3:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did learn that there is a dorm named Ivory Tower at GWU built in 2004. And also the name may refer to towers built at All Souls College in oxford.
posted by delmoi at 3:53 AM on March 27, 2011


This is an interesting line of research. Let me contrast it with a cruder ideological binary: the essential conflict between democracy and truth inspired by Hannah Arendt.

In democracy our values and opinions matter because they are ours. Objective truths, whether math, science, or historical facts, are by definition independent of our opinions about them. This is very galling for those who think they 'have a right to their own opinion' about climate change or the holocaust. In a trivial sense, yes, they can think what they like. But their opinions on such subjects do not deserve any respect, not even if added together through voting.

It follows, counter-intuitively, that many conservatives are committed to more radical democracy than many liberals. For example those conservatives who argue against teaching evolution in schools argue that i) evolution is only a theory (i.e. just an opinion) and ii) in a democracy the people get to decide what science is (i.e. democratically elected school boards should have the right to choose which opinions to educate our children in). In contrast liberals say that science is about the pursuit of objective truth and that the place of opinion, and democratic decision-making, lies in making a prior commitment to educating children in science, rather than in debating what counts as science.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 4:14 AM on March 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Which you really only see from the burgeoning behavioral economics field"

Two great tastes that taste so sciencey!

the bear was there, I had the stick, poking seemed inevitable.
posted by fullerine at 4:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Freeman Dyson. That is all.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:03 AM on March 27, 2011


People who argue that "evolution is just a theory" understand neither evolution nor the scientific process, and in any reasonable universe would be laughingly forbidden from having any say in what's taught as science at all, anywhere.... And then put on an island where the rest of us get to watch them prove themselves right.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:08 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, conservatives want Daddy while liberals want Mommy. Got it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:11 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


the essential conflict between democracy and truth inspired by Hannah Arendt

Actually, this point was already being argued between Rousseau and Condorcet in the 18th century!
posted by escabeche at 6:13 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can anyone here provide a different approach to determining cultural and individual factors to individual belief and hence activism as opposed to simply making a snide remark in vulgar (unrefined) fashion about the modeling limits of categorical cultural segmentation?

The obvious counterargument is that people's beliefs are not a factor of innate ideological tendencies but of those people's structural position in the world. Similarly, there is plenty of research that suggests that we construct our beliefs after the fact as a means of rationalizing our actions, rather than acting based on pre-existing beliefs (as we like to think). If these things are true, then research like that linked here falls into the not-even-wrong categary.
posted by enn at 6:30 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


From the PDF thread a few posts down


The Authoritarians. (PDF)
posted by The Whelk at 6:51 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm here for an argument.
posted by Splunge at 7:18 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


No you're not.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:57 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The obvious counterargument is that people's beliefs are not a factor of innate ideological tendencies

The articles are saying that innate ideological tendencies are a factor in determining people's beliefs. You can take it for granted that nearly any interesting causal question in psychology has an answer of the form "X, Y, and Z play a part".
posted by Jpfed at 8:08 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?

Denial. They are trying to avoid coming to terms with something, thereby losing a hope they need for coping. Take evolution for example. No creation myth, no fall of mankind, no apparent need for a savior, no eternal life or reward.
posted by Brian B. at 8:48 AM on March 27, 2011


One main category is comprised of people who prefer to ignore or refute anything which might place upon them the slightest burden of personal responsibility. Nearly everybody at least vacations there from time-to-time. Some people have a permanent residence in the dead center.

I'm not sure how any of these insights are directly helpful in producing change though. I suppose it may facilitate a greater understanding and compassion for those we (general we) disagree with. On the other hand, that may just be contributing to the steady decline of reasoned thinking, at least in the U.S.

I'm going to go scramble some eggs.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:04 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?

Because they're thick as pig shit?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's because they got tired of scientists that focus on playing thesaurus bingo so they sound smart enough to publish rather than focusing on communicating their ideas.

Ye gods, that paper's like chewing through a pine tree.
posted by underflow at 9:26 AM on March 27, 2011


As always, XKCD has the answer.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:24 AM on March 27, 2011


Why is this called "cultural cognition"? It seems to have no connection at all with the serious study of either culture or cognition. Just more dignified and scholarly-seeming than "The Self-Justification Hypothesis"?
posted by RogerB at 10:31 AM on March 27, 2011


A cognition... may be thought of as a piece of knowledge. The knowledge may be about an attitude, an emotion, a behavior, a value, and so on. For example, the knowledge that you like the color red is a cognition; the knowledge that you caught a touchdown pass is a cognition; the knowledge that the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation is a cognition. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another.
posted by Brian B. at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2011


Then by your own argument, if that were really actually going on, you wouldn't be aware of it....

or, as brian b points out, you'd be in denial about it. which, I'm sure, none of us here are.
posted by victors at 11:46 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The obvious counterargument is that people's beliefs are not a factor of innate ideological tendencies but of those people's structural position in the world. [...] If these things are true, then research like that linked here falls into the not-even-wrong categary.

You didn't read any of it, did you?
posted by anigbrowl at 3:16 PM on March 27, 2011


I'm an individualist-egalitarian. And I have nipples. Can you milk me?
posted by orthogonality at 4:03 PM on March 27, 2011


There are two kinds of people in the world: alive and dead.

Doesn't get much more polarised than that.
posted by bwg at 5:50 PM on March 27, 2011


I'm surprised to see such a lack of interest in this post, with so many people being irreverent and oppositional. To me, research like this gets at a really important point -- the idea that we are making decisions about the important issues of our time based on mental and emotional constructs that have little to do with the actual issues. With humans being illogical and all that I don't know that things will change that fast, but I personally hope for the day when it is commonplace to recognize that we shouldn't make decisions based on gut-level emotional reactions. And maybe even to realize that even if something feels wrong to us, it isn't necessarily wrong for others or society at large.
posted by ianhattwick at 10:57 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are 10 kinds of people in the world: Those who "get" binary, and those who don't.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:31 PM on March 28, 2011


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