Research published in this month’s journal Political Behavior seems to suggests that liberals are less likely to react to cognitive dissonance than conservatives. In the study when conservatives received corrected information that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were never found in Iraq, they became even more committed to their opinion that WMD were indeed found.
Yet when liberals were given corrected information that President Bush only issued a partial ban on stem cell research, the researchers indicate that they did not experience backfire but “still did ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush restrictions weren’t total.” To me, this sounds like backfire without emotion – which is still backfire (the refusal to accept new facts). Could there be bias in the research?
Let me illustrate. The pro choice position is commonly viewed as a liberal viewpoint. Suppose that we place an ultrasound video on a billboard off the freeway right above Planned Parenthood. The ultrasound video is simply a “new and provable fact” – a spectacular technology that allows pregnant mothers to view their baby growing inside. The backfire among pro-choice advocates will be just as great as a conservative showing up in their church Sunday morning to find a gay marriage ceremony taking place.
The research, it turns out, is not biased. The degree of backfire simply varies – in conservatives and liberals – based upon how much we feel attached to (or against) a particular issue or position: an effect referred to as salience. The greater the salience, the greater the backfire. This confirms other research suggesting the more we know about a topic, the more susceptible we are to backfire. It doesn’t matter who you are.
In my next post, we will consider how backfire flowing from side or ancillary issues can damage our Christian witness.