Don’t Like the Solutions to a Problem? Deny it Exists!

Ever wonder why liberals and conservatives can disagree so vehemently? Well, this may explain part of it: when we don’t like the potential solutions to a problem, we’re likely to deny that the problem exists.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether or not they like the potential policy that might result from said evidence. According to co-author Troy Campbell, “Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does. The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”

Researchers conducted three experiments, with participants ranging from 120 to 188, on three issues: climate change, air pollution, and crime.

In one experiment, both self-identified Republicans and Democrats read a statement about temperatures rising 3.2 degrees this century. They were then asked to evaluate a policy solution to the problem. When the solution emphasized carbon taxes or other government regulation, which is something Republicans oppose, only 22% of the Republicans said that they believed that temperatures would rise as much as the statement said. However, when the solution presented involved the free market, 55% of the Republicans agreed that temperatures are increasing.

A similar effect was observed in a question about crime. When solutions to break-ins involved looser gun controls, Democrats weren’t as likely to agree that break-ins were a problem. When the proposed solution involved more gun control, the Democrats were quite likely to see break-ins as a serious problem.

According to Campbell, “We argue that the political divide over many issues is just that, it’s political. These divides are not explained by just one party being more anti-science, but the fact that in general people deny facts that threaten their ideologies, left, right, or centre.”

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