Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts? (NPR)


In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, Assistant Professor of Government Brendan Nyhan discusses the influence that a person’s emotions and political loyalties have over their acceptance of political facts.

The public’s perceptions about gas prices are tied to their political loyalties, it has been shown. Current polls suggest that Republicans believe that President Obama can control rising prices, while Democrats believe it is out of the President’s control. Six years ago, when a Republican was in office, the numbers and perceptions were reversed. “The whole political landscape has flipped,” Nyhan told NPR.

NPR explores Nyhan’s research about how to overcome people’s resistance to facts that conflict with strongly held beliefs. In one test, Nyhan and his team asked voters to focus on a positive, self-affirming memory or experience. “One person talked about taking care of his elderly grandmother—something you wouldn’t expect to have any influence on people’s factual beliefs about politics,” Nyhan explained to NPR. “But that brings to mind these positive feelings about themselves, which we think will protect them or inoculate them from the threat that unwelcome ideas or unwelcome information might pose to their self-concept,” and make them more receptive to factual information.

Listen to the full story, broadcast 5/9/12 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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