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IS 1115 TWP: A Library Guide: Evaluating information sources. How Good Is the Evidence?

Information sources establish your credibility. Use the most credible sources that are appropriate for persuading your audience.

The Roles of Emotion and Reason in Decision Making

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You might want to stop believing that your own daily decisions are based on reason rather than emotion.  In order to survive as a species, humans have evolved a strong desire to cooperate with each other.  

Consider this: our willingness to agree with others and accept their point of view is a strong social motivator that can override our own logic.  Cooperation promotes the "common good," and "promotes cooperation better than reason"  (Levine, Barasch, Berman, & Small, 2018, p. 714).  By nature, we want to cooperate.  We often aren't aware of it, but others play a very influential role when we're making decisions or forming opinions.

Furthermore, the more complicated an issue becomes, the more overloaded our brains become, especially if the issue is in any way at odds with what we already believe. "[R]easoning is very much a cognitive-resource-intensive process"   (Blanchette & Nougarou, 2014, p. 99).  When faced with complex issues, we might actually shut off our individual logical analysis.  We usually opt for the easier solution of agreeing with the people we identify as being like us--those people whom we identify as belonging to our "tribe." 

By doing this we can do what we're biologically and socially programmed to do: 1) indicate our willingness to cooperate with the people whose world view we agree with, 2) take comfort in believing that we are correct and those not in our tribe are wrong, and 3) avoid the often difficult and energy-expending task of independent thinking.

Unfortunately, this human biological adaptation gets in the way of truly sound reasoning.  For example, one tribe might prefer Fox News as an information source.

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The Fox News audience takes comfort in hearing the point of view of other conservatives with whom they identify and agree.  Another tribe might prefer MSNBC and take comfort hearing the point of view of other  liberals with whom they identify and agree.  However, If members of either group were willing, or able, to think unemotionally, dispassionately, they would probably agree it's very unlikely that either news outlet could be always right or always wrong. 

Instead, we so strongly seek the comfort of agreeing with our own tribe, exposure to information from the other side might cause considerable discomfort.  

The overabundance of news outlets, social media, and information sources makes it possible (and probable) that we'll take comfort in only seeking those sources of information with which we know we'll agree.  

So, could we solve the problem of emotional decision making by relying solely on empirical evidence, i.e. firsthand experience?  Probably not entirely.  We tend to interpret even empirical, scientific evidence in ways that reinforce our personal worldview.  We interpret information in ways that validate our own preconceived notions (BastardiUhlmann, & Ross, 2011).  

Is critical thinking impossible?  No, but it's much harder than you might have thought.  The first steps are to:

  • be aware of the power of emotion to sway opinions
  • beware of unconscious bias when gathering information, and
  • approach new information with an open but skeptical mind.

Bastardi, A., Uhlmann, E. L., & Ross, L. (2011). Wishful thinking: Belief, desire, and the motivated evaluation of scientific evidence. Psychological Science, 22(6), 731-732. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611406447

Blanchette, I., & Nougarou, F. (2014). Incidental emotions have a greater impact on the logicality of less proficient reasoners. Thinking & Reasoning, 23(1), 98-113.

Levine, E., Barasch, A., Berman, J., & Small, D. (2018). Signaling emotion and reason in cooperation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(5), 702-719.