People with right-wing authoritarian attitudes less likely to alter existing beliefs

People with strong right-wing authoritarian attitudes, which are characterised by a desire for order, structure, and preservation of social norms, are less likely to alter their beliefs in response to new information, according to a study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

London, 6th August 2020

People with strong right-wing authoritarian attitudes, which are characterised by a desire for order, structure, and preservation of social norms, are less likely to alter their beliefs in response to new information, according to a study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

A team of researchers at Duke University, USA found that when challenged on their beliefs in urban myths such as “camels store water in their humps” and “dogs see in black-and-white” people who had strong right-wing authoritarian attitudes were less likely to accept that these myths were untrue, even when presented with feedback that the statement was a myth, than people who did not hold these attitudes.

278 US residents who were 37 years old on average and were recruited from a crowdsourcing website participated in the study. They completed an online task in which they were presented with 120 statements that were either urban myths or facts. Participants were asked whether the statements were true or false and how confident they were in their answers. After being told which statements were facts and which were urban myths, participants were then shown 60 of the statements again and asked whether they still believed them to be true or false. A week later participants were presented with the remaining 60 statements and rated them as true or false. Questionnaires completed by the participants assessed whether they had right-wing authoritarian attitudes and how likely they were to consider evidence before making decisions, defined by the authors as open-mindedness.

The authors found that immediately after being told which statements were true or false, participants with right-wing authoritarian attitudes were less likely than those without these attitudes to accept that their beliefs were incorrect, especially when they were moderately to highly confident in their original answer. After a week, participants with strong right-wing authoritarian attitudes continued to be unlikely to alter their beliefs at all, regardless of how confident they were in their initial answers. Individuals with stronger right-wing authoritarian attitudes also tended to have lower scores for open-minded thinking. The findings suggest that people with right-wing authoritarian attitudes may continue to believe in false information as they are less likely to consider evidence that contradicts their beliefs, especially when they are confident that they are correct.

Allie Sinclair, the corresponding author, said: “Misinformation in the media has serious consequences for public health, politics, and the environment. If we encounter misinformation that is later retracted, we need to be able to correct our false beliefs. For example, even though scientists have clearly shown that wearing masks helps reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, many people still hold onto their false beliefs that face masks are ineffective. This research is a step towards understanding how people learn from feedback that challenges their beliefs.”

The authors caution that it is unclear whether their findings, which relate to belief in urban myths, generalise to strong beliefs about contentious topics such as climate change or vaccination and further research is needed. They also recommend additional studies to determine how the perceived credibility of information sources affects the beliefs of people with right-wing authoritarian attitudes.

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Deborah Kendall | Springer Nature | Corporate Affairs
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