Risk and Culture

The Second National Risk and Culture Study, conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School.

Abstract:

Cultural Cognition refers to the disposition to conform one's beliefs about societal risks to one's preferences for how society should be organized. Based on surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans, the Second National Risk and Culture Study presents empirical evidence of the effect of this dynamic in generating conflict about global warming, school shootings, domestic terrorism, nanotechnology, and the mandatory vaccination of school-age girls against HPV, among other issues. The Study also presents evidence of risk-communication strategies that counteract cultural cognition. Because nuclear power affirms rather than threatens the identity of persons who hold individualist values, for example, proposing it as a solution to global warming makes persons who hold such values more willing to consider evidence that climate change is a serious risk. Because people tend to impute credibility to people who share their values, persons who hold hierarchical and egalitarian values are less likely to polarize when they observe people who hold their values advocating unexpected positions on the vaccination of young girls against HPV. Such techniques can help society to create a deliberative climate in which citizens converge on policies that are both instrumentally sound and expressively congenial to persons of diverse values.

And from the conclusion:

Conclusion:

There is a culture war in America, but it is about facts, not values. There is very little evidence that most Americans care nearly as much about issues that symbolize competing cultural values as they do about the economy, national security, and the safety and health of themselves and their loved ones. There is ample evidence, however, that Americans are sharply divided along cultural lines about what sorts of conditions endanger these interests and what sorts of policies effectively counteract such risks.

Findings from the Second National Culture and Risk Study help to show why. Psychologically speaking, it's much easier to believe that conduct one finds dishonorable or offensive is dangerous, and conduct one finds noble or admirable is socially beneficial, than vice versa. People are also much more inclined to accept information about risk and danger when it comes from someone who shares their values than when it comes from someone who holds opposing commitments.

Posted on May 21, 2008 at 5:19 AM • 17 Comments

Comments

bartkidMay 21, 2008 9:00 AM

>There is a culture war in America, but it is about facts, not values.

cf. truthiness.

Baron Dave RommMay 21, 2008 9:24 AM

I wrote about this in October of 2003: "Ronald 'Shotgun Wedding' Reagan: A Study in Cognitive Dissonance". Essentially, Reagan as president did _the exact opposite_ of his 1980 campaign promises, and trying to resolve the paradox drove many on the right to clinical insanity.

http://www.romm.org/reagan.html

AlfredMay 21, 2008 9:33 AM

Whatever happened to "you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts"?

yonodelerMay 21, 2008 10:50 AM

The categorization of “individuals of diverse cultural outlooks” as ”hierarchical and egalitarian, individualistic and communitarian” conveniently oversimplifies.

MagnusMay 21, 2008 11:15 AM

The reasons they talk about disagreeing about facts rather than issues is that there seems to be a broad agreement about the ends but sharp divisions about the means to achieve those ends. At least that's how I interpret the first paragraph of their conclusion.

Davi OttenheimerMay 21, 2008 12:04 PM

Awesome post Bruce!

"People are also much more inclined to accept information about risk and danger when it comes from someone who shares their values than when it comes from someone who holds opposing commitments."

I agree with where you are going with this thought, but I see a subtle difference:

It is more common for someone to accept information if they feel good about how that person makes them feel. It actually does not matter if the other person truly shares their values or not, it is only perception/anticipation of good feelings that opens minds to information.

For example, if I tell you I think you are doing a great job (to actively engage your feelings) and then ask you to change your views you are more likely to agree than if you believe I am someone with the same values. In fact, I would expect you to resist and argue more if I say we have the same values and then tell you that I expect you to change your views.

APersonMay 21, 2008 12:42 PM

"Shares my values" is a mental shorthand for "is trustworthy". Those who fail the "shares my values" test must first establish their trustworthiness before the listener will begin to accept what is said. It doesn't matter if what is being said are ostensibly facts or not, if you are required to mentally catalog, collate, and verify the stated facts, then that's more effort for you the listener.

David DonahueMay 21, 2008 12:46 PM

Is it just me, or is the choice of wording in that abstract intentionally chosen to appeal only to people with grad student/ Academia vocabularies (17th+ grade level)? By this I mean, I could follow it, but it was awkward reading. I'd bet that most people in the US would take one quick look at it and decide not to read it and thus never gain the knowledge of it's very interesting conclusions.

One of the major problems in the US is that the voting majority is fairly easily into voting against their best interests by manipulating these kinds of cultural and cognitive biases and by using logical fallacies. Some of the fallacy techniques used, especially in promoting flawed security policies are:

Appeal to probability: because something could happen, it is inevitable that it will happen.

Base rate fallacy: using weak evidence to make a probability judgment without taking into account known empirical statistics about the probability.

False dichotomy: Where two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there are several.

For more details see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

If the people of the US truly understood these fallacious arguments and the cultural/cultural biases toward believing unfounded risk statements by those who they perceive as their peers. Then the debate on proper policies could be about facts, goals and techniques and not about who is better at tricky and deception.

Unfortunately most policies in the US are not now about whats in everyone's best interests, but about ways to serve the self interests of those who are good at manipulation.

Education of fallacious argument techniques, a strengthened ability to recognize someone's attempt to deceive and find ways rationally analyze situations are the only ways to resolve this. Sadly these are not a focus of our educational system, and i think they should be.

People who agree with me are smartMay 21, 2008 1:14 PM

> There is a culture war in America, but
> it is about facts, not values.

Doesn't the study say that our values determine what we accept as fact?

I think the moral of this study is that our field of vision is restricted by the pigeon hole we live in.

Petréa MitchellMay 21, 2008 3:27 PM

"Is it just me, or is the choice of wording in that abstract intentionally chosen to appeal only to people with grad student/ Academia vocabularies (17th+ grade level)?"

The study report was written by psychologists for the benefit of other psychologists, and any education you or I get from it being freely available on the Web is purely incidental. I'm sure the target audience has no trouble with it.

supersnailMay 22, 2008 2:40 AM

"Petrea" - no its not just you the abstract was written in "acedemese" a language that bears the same relationship to normal English as "Gangsta" and serves the same purpose.

That is it identifies the speaker/author as a bona fida member of his chossen community and to discourage outsiders from questioning the speakers/authors authority or engaging in debate.

jdegeMay 22, 2008 6:43 AM

"One of the major problems in the US is that the voting majority is fairly easily into voting against their best interests by manipulating these kinds of cultural and cognitive biases and by using logical fallacies."

What's the matter with Kansas is that there is a large group in the US who judge that what is in their own best interest is not measured by how much the government gives them.

Independent Minded Correct ThinkerMay 23, 2008 12:32 PM

>>There is a culture war in America, but it is about facts, not values.
>cf. truthiness.

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Guys Can Be Sluts TooMay 26, 2008 7:42 PM

As far as HPV, I think boys should be vaccinated, too. They may not be able to be predisposed to cancer by the virus, but they're nonetheless a factor.

Remember, it's not just girls who can sleep around.

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