Self-Deception and Confirmation Bias in Politics and Life

The always insightful Tyler Cowen linked to one of his papers which is really interesting and accessible to the lay reader called Self-Deception as the Root of Political Failure. A related article in the NYT mentioned how liberals and conservatives will unconsciously ignore data which refute their view and glob onto data which supports their predetermined opinion.

Self-deception is essential to staying confident and acting assertively. We all think we’re smarter than we really are, are responsible for success more than we really are, etc. This has been proven time and time again in studies. Those who don’t self-deceive are usually depressed. I think this is generally a good thing, but when self-deception meanders from the realm of maintaining an upbeat, confident outlook on life to corrupting decisions to fit predetermined views, it can be dangerous.

Cowen’s abstract:

Individuals discard free information when that information damages their self-image and thus lowers their utility. More specifically, individuals prefer to feel good about their previously chosen affiliations and shape their worldviews accordingly.  This model helps explain the relative robustness of political failure in light of extensive free information, and it helps to explain the rarity of truth-seeking behavior in political debate.  The comparative statics predictions differ from models of either Downsian or expressive voting.  For instance, an increased probability of voter decisiveness does not necessarily yield a better result.  I also consider political parties as institutions and whether political errors cancel in the aggregate.  I find that political failure based on self-deception is very difficult to eliminate.

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