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Exploring the Generality of "Naive Realism": Perceptions of Bias in Others who Disagree with our Opinions


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Principal Investigator(s):

Glenn D. Reeder
Illinois State University
Email: gdreeder@ilstu.edu
Home page: http://psychology.illinoisstate.edu/gdreeder/

John B. Pryor
Illinois State University
Email: pryor@ilstu.edu
Home page: http://psychology.illinoisstate.edu/pryor/

Michael Griswell
Illinois State University
Email: mlgris2@ilstu.edu

Sample size: 707
Field period: 9/27/2005 - 10/3/2005

 

Abstract:

Naive realism can be traced to the individual's conviction that he or she is in touch with objective reality. Individuals also expect that other (reasonable) people will see the world in the same way. It follows that when other people hold divergent perceptions of the world, the most likely cause is that they lack the proper information. But if others persist in their divergent views after receiving the proper information, it must be because they are lazy, irrational, or biased by either ideology or self-interest. In other words, naive realism suggests that we will perceive bias in others who disagree with our beliefs and opinions. Naive realism may reflect the last vestiges of the kind of egocentrism that is found in children (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958).


This researech aims to extend our knowledge of naive realism in two ways. First, it examines the prevalence of naive realism in the general population, with specific attention to the age of participants. Robinson et al. (1995) found impressive evidence for the bias among an elite college population (Stanford undergraduates), but do the findings extend to other populations? The research examines two alternative hypotheses regarding the relationship between age and naive realism. On the one hand, it is possible that late adolescent-age college students are more egocentric than the general population. Given that overcoming egocentrism is a life-long task, and that egocentrism is the basis of naive realism, it follows that naive realism should be more apparent in younger populations (18-24 years of age) than in older populations (30 years and older). On the other hand, naive realism may be a reflection of issue involvement, such that only highly involved partisans display the effect. If so, older adults-who tend to be more involved in the political process -should show the most evidence of naive realism. The present research allows for a test between these alternative hypotheses. In addition, pilot research by work our research group suggests that naive realism is enhanced among people who indicate high levels of issue involvement. Given that older populations may be more politically involved, we will measure issue involvement as a possible mediator of age trends in naive realism.


Our second aim is to extend the research to include a neglected aspect of perceived bias. Perceivers not only may view their political opponents as biased in terms of knowledge acquisition (seeing them as uninformed and closed-minded), but also as biased in terms of their motives. We propose that partisans will tend to see their opposition as having ulterior motives centered on self-interest. Although people in Western countries view the self-interest motive as widespread, they may be especially prone to perceiving this motive in their political adversaries. Indeed, our earlier studies found evidence of such egocentric motive attribution across different issues (e.g., gay marriage and the Iraq war). For example, college students were asked about the underlying motives of other Americans who either supported or opposed the 2003 war in Iraq. In addition, participants indicated whether or not they personally supported the war. In each case, participants perceived ulterior (self-interested) motives in the opposition, whereas they perceived their own side as having relatively altruistic motives. In all of these earlier studies, however, the participants were college students.

Hypotheses:

As described above, the research examined two alternative hypotheses regarding the relationship between age and naive realism. On the one hand, it is possible that late adolescent-age college students are more egocentric than the general population. Given that overcoming egocentrism is a life-long task, and that egocentrism is the basis of naive realism, it follows that naive realism should be more apparent in younger populations (18-24 years of age) than in older populations (30 years and older). On the other hand, naive realism may be a reflection of issue involvement, such that only highly involved partisans display the effect. If so, older adults-who tend to be more involved in the political process -should show the most evidence of naive realism. We expected that evidence of naive realism would manifest itself by participants viewing their opposition as lacking knowledge and seeing them as being irrational.


We also proposed that partisans will tend to see their opposition as having ulterior motives centered on self-interest. Although people in Western countries view the self-interest motive as widespread, they may be especially prone to perceiving this motive in their political adversaries.

Experimental Manipulations:

(1) Participants judged others either on the target issue of abortion or on the issue of gay marriage.


(2) Participants judged others who were either in support of one of the two issues described above, or who were opposed to the issue.


(3) The research also varied the order of questions (questions about motive came either before or after questions about knowledge and irrationality.

Key Dependent Variables:

Key dependent variables were attributions concerning the knowledge and irrationality of others who held various attitudes (e.g., supporting or opposing abortion). In addition, participants rated the motives of others who held various attitudinal positions.


Participants also indicated their own attitude on the target issue and provided ratings of their involvement in the issue. These variables were examined as predictors of the biased attributions mentioned directly above.

Summary of Findings:

Preliminary results indicate strong evidence of biased attributions in this study. For example, participants attributed much greater knowledge to others who agreed with their own attitudinal position. Persons who disagreed with the participants' attitudinal position were perceived as lacking knowledge and as being irrational. As expected, participants also attributed negative motives to those who disagreed with their own opinions.


In general, the biases described above were robust and did not vary significantly across different sub-groups. That is, the bias was present across different age groups and across groups with different levels of education. In fact, the bias did not vary significantly as a function of any major demographic characteristics of the participants.

Conclusion:

The tendency to make biased attributions about those who disagree with our opinions is very robust. The bias was present on measures concerning knowledge acquisition (judgments about knowledge and irrationality) as well as on judgments of motive (e.g., self-interest). In addition, these tendencies generalized across a variety of sub-groups varying in age, education, and other demographic characteristics.

References:

Reeder, G. D., J. B. Pryor, M. J. A. Wohl, and M. L. Griswell. 2005. On attributing negative motives to others who disagree with our opinions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31:1498-1510.


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