Phil 145, Week 3

3a Motivated Inference

Ziva Kunda on motivated inference

People bias their inferences based on their goals: e.g. female coffee drinkers less likely to believe that caffiene causes cancer.

People don't just believe whatever they want: they attempt to construct justifications by searching memory for relevant info.

E.g. extroverts are successful vs. introverts are successful.

Think of all the time you were extroverted.

Mechanism: biased recruitment of memory. This is natural because memory and inference must be goal-oriented.

Reconstruct your beliefs. People who will have to interact with a schizophrenic think they're ok.

Normative question: should we have motivated inference?

No: get false and dangerous beliefs. E.g. about medical treatment, economy.

Yes: motivated inferences make us happy, therefore more successful. Baseball players. Accuracy -> depression.

Error tendency:

Motivated inference (Gilovich, ch. 5)

Tendency to reach conclusions unduly influenced by personal goals.


3b Social biases

Knowledge is social

We depend on others for information, but this can introduce biases. E.g. Steve Bank (ex-nun,. Lauri's name, mongoose).

Science as social knowledge.

Collaboration: most papers co-authored in science.

Networks of information: journals, email, books, preprints.

Workplace in general depends on shared knowledge.

Biasing through communication:

1. Telling a good story.

- e.g. urban legends, (chihuahua/rat, finger in chain, alligators)

- B.F. Skinner story,

- library books, Engineerng Lecture Hall

- Raiffa story

Cognitive process: simplify and convey

Error tendency: story may be distorted

Correction strategy: track down original source

2. Distortions in the service of entertainment and informativeness.

E.g. TV news.

Immediacy: pretend you were there: Nintendo brain damage.

Tabloids have entertainment value only

Embelish story to increase apparent informativeness: Mulberry

3. Distortion in the service of self-interest

- self-presentation, e.g. war heroes

4. Who can we trust: can't trust our own observations, can't trust the media? Answer: look for multiple sources, concentrating on the most reliable. Ask: what are good and bad sources of information?

Cognitive process: increase our knowledge by learning from others

Error tendency: biases in communication distort our knowledge

Gilovich's recommendations for avoiding errors:


Error tendencies

Sharpening and leveling in communication (Gilovich, ch. 6)

Tendency to distort information in social contexts because of simplifying, faulty memory, or reformulating what was told.

Motivated communication distortions (Gilovich, ch. 6)

Tendency to distort information in social contexts for purposes of entertainment, informativeness, or self-interest.

Page updated Jan. 20, 2003

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