Cultural cognition and moral influences

Before commencing with this book’s analysis, however, it is vital to first address a growing body of decision-making research associated with theories of cultural cognition and risk perception. Forged by Dan Kahan, these studies have sought to uncover how ordinary citizens assess risk and make judgements in relation to such topics as climate change, gun control, and vaccinations.182 Fundamentally, it has been found that people are disposed to endorse whichever position on these issues best affirms the core values

Table 2.4 Darwin-Skeptic Message Variables Exhibiting >0.400 Incident Rates per 1000 Words

Message Variable

Institute for Creation Research

Answers in Genesis

Center for Science and Culture

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Rank

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Rank

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Rank

Source Cues

3.408

3.047

1

3.562

2.497

1

1.038

0.926

3

Asking Questions

1.958

1.751

2

2.866

2.009

2

2.030

1.811

2

CPNE

1.902

1.700

3

1.431

1.003

4

2.770

2.471

1

stj

0.790

0.707

5

1.188

0.833

5

0.594

0.530

5

Social Consensus

1.047

0.936

4

0.481

0.337

3

Scarcity Principle

-

-

-

-

-

-

0.882

0.787

4

Message Repetition

-

-

-

0.407

0.285

6

-

-

-

Table 2.5 Proevolutionist Message Variables Exhibiting >0.400 Incident Rates per 1000 Words

Message Variable

Richard Daiakins Foundation for Reason and Science

National Center for Science Education

BioLogos Foundation

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Rank

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Rank

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Rank

Asking Questions

2.914

3.019

1

0.939

0.379

3

1.503

1.693

1

Source Cues

2.273

0.918

1

1.391

1.566

2

CPNE

2.192

2.271

2

1.108

0.448

2

0.403

0.453

4

stj

0.746

0.302

5

0.645

0.726

3

Social Consensus

-

-

-

0.758

0.306

4

-

-

-

that define their identities, and what they already assume is true, rather than simply on the objective facts affiliated with these topics. This tendency has been described as identity-protective cognition, and through it people favor ideas supporting the cultural worldviews maintained within the groups with which they identify.183 Individuals, first and foremost, make decisions that affirm their in-group identities and confirm their loyalty to core group values. As a result, people selectively attend to facts in ways that validate their cultural worldviews, choosing to stick with notions that are compatible with their current beliefs while being highly suspicious of data infringing upon the cultural values associated with their group ties.184 In fact, regarding religiously motivated opposition to evolutionary theory in the United States, for instance, it has been found that people actually contest Darwinian ideas on chiefly moral grounds in the defense of esteemed values.185 It may be noted that, in many respects, it seems that these observations are reflective of the early responses to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species discussed in the previous chapter, as they persistently featured moral contestations of common ancestry. Moreover, current findings from studies into identity-protective cognition have revealed that while the idea of “heuristic reasoning” is a critical insight into how risks are assessed in relation to the acceptance of scientific facts, heuristics alone cannot account for all aspects of decision-making.186

Importantly, however, identity-protective reasoning and heuristic models of cognition are not mutually exclusive.187 The Cultural Cognition Thesis integrates both schemas, such that heuristic mechanisms are envisaged as working in concert with the influence of cultural values and social group membership. For instance, cultural cognition directly affects perceptions of credibility in the sense that “individuals more readily impute expert knowledge and trustworthiness to information sources whom they perceive as sharing their worldviews and deny the same to those whose worldviews they perceive as different from theirs.”188 Consequently, in relation to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the persuasive cue of Messenger Credibility, discussed in the next chapter, would conceivably be effective if the communicator with whom credibility is affixed maintains values associated with message recipients’ cultural outlooks.185 Additionally, the desire to affirm group beliefs potentially impacts both the central and peripheral routes of persuasion because “an unself-conscious desire to affirm group beliefs motivates both heuristic and systematic reasoning.”150 That is, the ELM persuasion pathways identified in Figure 2.1 must be interpreted in view of the fact that “individuals are motivated, unconsciously, to conform all manner of attitudes, including factual beliefs, to ones that are dominant within their self-defining reference groups.”151

The corollary is that, in line with the conclusions of Petty and Cacioppo, people are not always able to engage in high elaboration regarding leading scientific paradigms or policy issues. This can result in a dependence upon peripheral cues, including source credibility, when faced with

This age of propaganda 53 communications mentioning scientific premises. But there also exists a connected tendency for people to assign the “sorts of qualities that make an expert credible - including knowledge, honesty, and shared interest - to the people whom they perceive as sharing their values.”192 So, persuasive cues such as source credibility operate in conjunction with cultural cognition because people are likely to ascribe import to expertise, and recollect the apparent credibility of a source, when messengers demonstrate congenial cultural values. In brief, since “individuals often lack the time and expertise to evaluate competing forms of empirical data, they rely on those whose judgment they trust to tell them what claims to accept.” Those they trust, it turns out, are “ones who share their defining group commitments,” and people are apt to accept the position of an expert “whose perceived cultural values they share regardless of the position that expert is advocating.”193 This is described as the cultural credibility heuristic, and, as one study found, subjects were unlikely to identify a scientifically credible source as “an expert unless he took the position consistent with the one that predominated in their cultural group.”194 Consequently, the degree to which authorities are trusted hinges upon how well the cultural values of such experts align with those of the audience. It is this tendency that seems to lie at the heart of such creationist articles as James J. S. Johnson’s “What Good are Experts?” As he instructs readers: “When we’re faced with unproven assumptions that contradict what the Bible seems to say, the old maxim ‘consider the source’ is a good place to start, especially when the experts’ pronouncements don’t sound biblical.”195 The upshot of the article for audiences is that an expert who does not maintain the same views of the Bible to which they adhere is simply not credible.

In considering the significance of cultural cognition, it should also be noted that core in-group values and cultural commitments associated with identify-protective cognition can be moral convictions that socially bind people together. Taking this into account, it is also of help to reflect upon the main premises of Moral Foundations Theory conceived by Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham, which addresses how moral intuitions frequently guide decision-making. The theory, which is not without detractors, works out of an evolutionary account of moral intuitions. It identifies several key psychological foundations of morality that seem to produce quick and automatic emotional reactions that often guide how people make decisions.196 Thought to be innate, these central foundations might be said to operate as ‘gut level’ responses that have provisionally included the following primary moral axes: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/ respect, and purity/sanctity.197 Care/harm features concern for the wellbeing of others and the prevention of harm, including upholding such virtues as compassion and kindness. The fairness/reciprocity dimension relates to treating people fairly, maintaining justice, and defending the rights of citizens as well as personal autonomy. The in-group/loyalty moral facet involves dedication to group membership contra distrust for non-groupindividuals, and self-sacrifice for one’s community, which are integrated into patriotic impulses. Authority/respect includes reflexive respect for hierarchy, obedience to legitimate authority, duty, awe and admiration for those in power, and the veneration of traditions. Purity/sanctity exemplifies the psychology of disgust and prevention of contamination, leading to the regulation of bodily processes and biological pollutant avoidance. This intuition is linked to concepts of religious sacredness, such that some ideas or objects are treated as having inviolable value, and it can also be related to human endeavors intended to raise individuals above their carnal temptations and base animalistic passions. Since formulating these categories, other potential axes have been considered, though most research has been delimited to the initial five domains described here. The degree to which different communities emphasize or conversely minimize focus upon each of these five intuitive moral foundations varies across cultures and subcultures.198

While the theory may be incomplete in its five-foundation taxonomy, as well as its developmental account of morality, it seems useful in directing attention to the influence of emotion-driven moral sensitivities in decisionmaking, and decoding moral diversity throughout populations.199 Studies have found that people’s attitudes toward various political ideologies, including liberal or conservative partisanship in the US, as well as whether individuals support scientific data underling the validity of human-precipitated climate change or the efficacy of vaccines, appear to be somewhat associated with these five emotionally-laden moral intuitions.200 For example, citizens ascribing to liberal political principles generally hold chiefly to only the foundations of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity, while conservatives rely upon a more evenly distributed blend of all five attributes.201 As a result, for conservative-minded individuals, compassion and fairness constitute only two-fifths of their moral profiles, which are counterbalanced by foundations associated with authority, in-group loyalties, and conceptualizations of purity/sanctity.202 Attitude formation regarding political sentiment, or even scientific theories, therefore, seem at least moderately related to considerations of moral values and the precedence of certain moral foundations. For this reason, moral appeals can act as a type of persuasive heuristic in communications when the moral foundations petitioned within a message correspond with the moral profiles of targeted audiences.

It is important that, regarding the Elaboration Likelihood Model, it has been found communications exhibiting characteristics matching an audience’s attitudes or traits result in increased cognitive elaboration. Such messages can cause the message to “feel right,” leading to enhanced persuasiveness for recipients who also tend to think more positively about the message’s source.203 In accordance with these findings, communications conveying moral values matching up with the emotion-heavy moral foundations expressed by specific audiences will also likely be more persuasive. It is for this reason, perhaps, that propaganda theorists of the 20th century stressed the centrality of emotional appeals for the purposes of persuasion. Consistent with this, for instance, is one study that analyzed the outcomes of

This age of propaganda 55 morally framing pro-environmental messages for American conservatives, who generally articulate less concern for environmental crises, including anthropogenic climate change, than their liberal counterparts. The researchers took into account the propensity of conservative-leaning individuals to focus on in-group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity emotionally linked moral intuitions, which extend beyond the care/harm and fair-ness/reciprocity foundations stressed by liberals. These conservative-focused communications framed pro-environmental action as a matter of American patriotism, submitting to legitimate authority and protecting the purity of nature. The result was that, in comparison to non-moral appeals, conservative message recipients significantly shifted their attitudes in support of pro-environmental activity.204 In fact, it seems that conservative audiences are much more likely to be persuaded by messages purposefully enunciating MFT’s moral foundations with which they align than are liberal publics.205

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >