What’s a person to do? or ‘motivated avoidance’
What’s a person to do? or ‘Motivated avoidance’
From the American Psychological Association comes two studies here and here.
Individuals are often confronted with information that they do not know how to comprehend or evaluate, even though this information can be of critical importance to the self (or society as a whole). In the case of energy, nearly 40% of respondents in a Public Agenda (2009) survey could not identify a fossil fuel. Nearly one third could not identify a renewable energy source and incorrectly believed that solar energy contributes to global warming. This lack of knowledge should be of concern to these individuals, as 89% of respondents worry about increasing fuel costs, and 71% worry about global warming.
The economy serves as another example.
Approximately half of surveyed adults did not know what an increase in gross domestic product meant and thought that “money holds its value well in times of inflation” (National Council on Economic Education, 2005). Worse still, in a national survey of American adults, 54% of respondents did not know what a subprime mortgage was (Center for Economic and Entrepreneurial Literacy, 2009), despite the fact that the subprime mortgage crisis was a significant contributor to the economic recession that began in 2008, and almost certainly affected some substantial portion of those surveyed. In short, it is apparent that a solid grasp of the basics (let alone the complexities) of these domains elude many people, and there appears to be a discrepancy between how much people know about social issues and their importance and relevance to one’s day-to-day life.
Given the psychological discomfort associated with epistemic uncertainty, one appealing way to deal with the anxiety of being unable to comprehend or manage information is to simply outsource personal responsibility to supposed qualified others. This strategy may, at times, be considerably more appealing than seeking
out knowledge and information for oneself, which assumes that people have the time and ability to sieve through challenging, and potentially threatening, information. The amount of information available to us to sort, comprehend, and assimilate has substantially increased due to technological advances, all of which compete for our time and attention. As a result, trade-offs have been made over time whereby society’s members have forfeited a certain amount of autonomy to have these burdens placed onto systems of power composed of knowledgeable others. Society has prescribed that, for example, our health is managed by health professionals, our buildings by engineers and contractors, and, relevant to the present research, our social and economic security is managed by the government. Indeed, survey data show that 88% of adult respondents thought it was very important for politicians to have a good understanding of economics,
only are people motivated to avoid social issues when they feel issues are complex—thus maintaining their present level of unfamiliarity— but this effect appears strongest for those issues believed to be most urgent and serious. It is at times when change is most needed, therefore, that people may become the most likely to
defend the status quo and agents of sociopolitical systems. As such, the present studies suggest that rather than ensuring those in charge are maximally qualified to be in charge, and rather than remaining especially attuned to any limitations of the system, the psychological processes that are instigated when issues are seen as both severe and complex may limit any criticism of the current system and its decision-making process. And, perhaps even more critically, they may also prevent the types of behaviors, such as information gathering, that are necessary to efficacious social action (Attari et al., 2010; Larrick & Soll, 2008).
italics are mine
Quoting Mrs. R:
You take care of that geek stuff, I’m busy working for a living. 🙂
(I should point out that Mrs. R, who has never had an accounting, finance or economics course, predicted the economic crash and moved her money into cash after watching one news segment on housing speculation by the middle class. Smart girl her.)
As someone unknown to us now had noted long ago, “Ignorance is bliss.” We knnow that truth to be self evident. I haven’t read through the authors’ methodology section, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt given that their conclusion is along the lines of reinventing the wheel to those of us who have long held that the average American is a schmuck all too ready to vote against his/her own economic self interest. As was noted a long time past by a well known historical French legal sociologist, there is a symbiotic, though self-destructive, relationship between the average Joe/Jane and his betters and their courtiers. When addressing the issue of the enlightenment of the populace and when that may happen that wag noted, “….. when the rich and the government stop bribing treacherous pens and tongues to deceive them. When will this be? Never.”
My life experience is to have a Motivated Avoidance of most of the “helping” professions. I’m looking at you APS.
like i been sayin’, people is dumb. getting them ph.d’s, sadly, does not make them less dumb.
Mrs Rustbelt may be one of the exceptions.
I’d agree with dilbert that avoiding the helping professions is probably smart, but you don’t have to look too hard to see folks as could use a little help.
Well yes, as a group, you will find even helpers live in a Lake Woebegone environment, and that professional politics, institutional needs overriding staff and client needs, and all such occur. But then one can go along fine until one can’t.
I don’t see any profession or business being exempt from human concerns such as this.
Mrs. Rdan says something quite similar. But then what amount of knowing is enough for many? And who do you give authority to and why? These are things one can decide on particular issues. You have to pick your battles, and they are not all national nor policy …. still, what are baselines?
I guess we know why we are in the mess we are in now. It also explains why we’ve had George Bush and Obama as Presidents. It also explains why Snookie and The Situation make more money than I do……considering I have a college degree, 20 years experience, and a business owner.
A funny thing I’ve noticed over the years is that those who decry broad ignorance and bias never seem to believe they themselves could possibly be broadly ignorant or biased.
funny you noticed that. or maybe they’re just not telling you.
But Snookie and The Situation are contributing to the cultural development of our society. The advanced degrees and long term experience are only enhancing your personal development. It’s like the clerk at the NYC Board of Education said to me many years ago as we were discussing my specific and long list of pychology classes in what we referred to as the “human processes.” What have all these classes got to do with understanding children? And that same clerk was tasked with validating licensing prerequisites for new and continuing teaching staff.
Undoubtedly the average Joe and Jane are more focused on, and more impressed by The Situation’s abs and Snookie’s tatas. Those are real and tangible assets.
The APA is broadly ignorant? Or your noticing? Or just a throwaway comment that means nothing?
Happy New Year
no, I think poppies is sorta right. what he doesn’t know is that some of us who say folks is dumb realize that we is jes’ folks too.
folks being dumb is an established scientific fact. doesn’t quite mean what people thinks it means… but then people are..
on the other hand, as Mrs C liked to say, “You can always tell a professor, but you can’t tell him much.”
Ignorance lies with the individual members of a group. i can’t say one thing or another about individual psychologists, but the quality of the APA journals had always (granted I’m talking several decades ago) been first rate. I measure that by the rigor generally required of the articles it accepted for publication. Above I made reference to the study’s methodology section. No, I’ve still not bothered myself with it, but if you’re questioning the findings of the study the first step is to read carefully through the Methods section. Does it read like a rigorously conducted piece of work? Is the subject number sufficiently large to allow comparison to the general population in regards to the phenomenon in question? Is the collection of the data done in a manner that sounds unbiased and controlling for extraneous variables? Then go to the data section and see if the data is presented in a clear and comprehensible manner? And does the data appear to support the conclusions of the researchers? maybe its a piece of crap. The journals focused on social issues and personality concepts were never as rigorous as were the journals focused on more primary behavioral phenomenon.
In my job (I work at my state’s health insurance programs office which helps people with Medicare get Medicaid Savings Programs and help with their Part D drug plan costs), I talk with many people who are deeply uninformed about the very systems they need help with and from. Are they ignorant? I wouldn’t say that. Having spent time trying to learn about these systems myself, I have to say it’s not at all easy to get definitive answers and accurate explanations. I would like to assume there are people who do have such answers and explanations and understand the systems fully, but I don’t actually believe that.
A number of the people I help spend a great deal of the time with me attacking the current government, absolutely certain that the confusion they feel when trying to deal with their own situation must be somehow related to Obamacare or Democrats or immigration policy. But here’s the thing. Lately, I’ve had a number of these angry, terrified, ashamed people wind up saying that they could see the point of a national health care system even though it would be ‘socialist’.
I think this is rather like Mrs. R realizing it was time to get out of the mess and into safe cash. You don’t need to be thoroughly knowledgeable about a bad and failing system to be able to understand your own exposure to it. Frotunately for Mrs. R, there was an option to be taken. For people caught in the health care system, there is no such escape at this time.
Hmmm…while I understand the complexity of following procedures and such, the point of the research was not the initial ignorance, which happens to us all on any given subject, but the impulse to spend time to find out more information.
I can understand irritation at a system that should be less complex. Gaining knowledge often is best motivated by our own personal exposure to it and gaining that part of understanding …. no one is demanding understanding of the whole as far as I can tell. I know of no experts who claim understanding the whole except some ‘pundits’.
i worked for the food stamp arm of the welfare system for a year back in the eighties. the rules were clear enough, but the people who administered the rules could not or did not read them, remember them, or understand them. and their bosses were only interested in their own political futures.
when i say that people are dumb, i am not thinking of the poor clients not knowing how to jump through the hoops. i am thinking of a fairly well established fact about the limitations of human cognition… you just don’t get that many people who can sit down and gather the data and think through all the interrelations and tell the important from the not important…
The APA article referenced strikes me as “very likely” to be true based on what i have seen over the past sixty or more years.
and yes it wouldn’t take much to turn these people from “gummint haters” to “a little bit of socialism is okay”…. but they wouldn’t understand it, they’d just need a leader.
which we have not got.
just to be a little more clear… it’s not that the folks don’t know the system.. why should they? it isn’t even that they don’t know “economics”… why should they? it is that they are easily led by liars who appeal to their primitive emotions…. and there is no reason why they should be able to resist that.
as it turns out you take your average ph.d. and he is easily led by “authorities” in his own field, even if the “authority” is himself… and the paper he wrote when he was young and did think about things at least a little more than he does today.
i have heard of, but not read myself, a study that “shows” that “experts” when asked to think about problems outside their own field, don’t do any better than the average sixth grader…
and, if the truth were known, when it comes to actually thinking about problems in their own field, they don’t do any better than the average sixth grader…. that is they rely on routine application of algorithms they were taught… or even invented themselves for another problem… rather than go to all the effort… and it is real effort.. to try to think clearly .
and if you think about this, i am pretty sure you will agree with me that it is at least true about everyone you don’t agree with.
My problem is not with ignorance …. we are all very, very ignorant about many, many, many things.
My problem is that so many people and institutions seem to be proud of their ignorance.
It is not what people know, it is what they think they know that is actually incorrect.
I keep thinking about one well known libertarian blogger that if he knew half of what he thought he knew he would be brilliant.
I must insist I know half of what I think I know.
A simple test would be to ask them what they knoe about Medicaid/Medicare with regard to nursing homes and assisted care. The very same program(s) they rail against are probably the only ones which wiill be accessible to them when they age and when they need them.
The present healthcare system is bankrupct for everyone except the industry itself.
Yes, I agree that mostly it’s pundits who claim omniscience, but pundits and torchbearers are the people that get the airtime. The media could counter this by writing about and interviewing real people who use Medicare and Social Security, but somehow, that doesn’t happen very much, if at all. But there are always anecdotes about indiviidual abusers of the systems that are taken as gospel–the welfare queen, etc. Perhaps this is a good example of how people don’t want to take the time to learn more about the realities not just of the system but of other people’s lives. It’s much more satisfying to think there is some subset of abusers out there who are ruining it for the rest of us.
And for the media, is there really any reward in doing a thorough job of researching and comprehending these systems before writing yet another story about ‘health care reform’?
So, yes, I’m agreeing with you and Coberly that the research and article are, sadly, probably pretty accurate. I think people are looking for a leader and that they are influenced by their own needs. But rather than seek the leader best able to get us security in health care, warmth in winter and light in the dark, too many of us look for someone or some group to blame for the problems we face.
Run75441, I understand you, but I’m not teaching people about the systems they are desperately seeking access to; I’m spending my time actually getting them the help I can and then explaining to them what they need to do to help me make the system work quickly and efficiently for them. I feel that whatever learning goes on is done mostly by me –about the infinite ways the process can fail, about loopholes in regulations that create ‘back doors’ to services, about arcane and unfair rules that have not been changed simply because no one has taken the time to push for it.
good for you. but I think you don’t understand “leadership.” The people, most of them “don’t know” anything. this is not their fault. they have real lives to lead until they run into the problems themselves. and most of the time if they encounter “the system” it doesn’t work very well for them.
“leaders” are the people who undertake to “lead” … not so much to explain things to people as to induce them, one way or another, to behave in ways that are either good for them or bad for them.
leaders are self chosen, and of course they have to contend with other would-be leaders.
the “media” has no real motivation to “explain” things objectively. they either work for one leader or another, or they accept the “explanations” of the dominant leader-faction.
i had to fight my bosses to get them to just obey the law. finally they found an easy way to fire me.
this is more or less the way the world works.
i am not so worried about the “motivated avoidance” of the people.. avoiding learning the facts about “economics…. as i am about the motivated avoidance of the economists… avoiding learning the facts about life as it is really lived by the people.