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Misinformation and the Justification of Socially Undesirable Preferences

Date: 21/05/2018

Publication: Cambridge University Press

Attempts to correct political misperceptions often fail. The dominant theoretical explanation for this failure comes from psychological research on motivated reasoning. We identify a novel source of motivated reasoning in response to corrective information: the justification of socially undesirable preferences. Further, we demonstrate that this motivation can, under certain conditions, overpower the motivation to maintain congruence. Our empirical test is a national survey experiment that asks participants to reconcile partisan motivations and the motivation to justify voting against a racial minority candidate. Consistent with our argument, racially prejudiced participants dismiss corrections when misinformation is essential to justify voting against a black candidate of their own party, but accept corrections about an otherwise identical candidate of the opposing party. These results provide new insight into the persistence of certain forms of political misinformation.