The heart trumps the head: Desirability bias in political belief revision

Ben Tappin, Leslie Van Der Leer, Ryan McKay

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Understanding how individuals revise their political beliefs has important implications for society. In a pre-registered study (N=900) we experimentally separated the predictions of two leading theories of human belief revision—desirability bias and confirmation bias—in the context of the 2016 US presidential election. Participants indicated who they desired to win, and who they believed would win, the election. Following confrontation with evidence that was either consistent or inconsistent with their desires or beliefs, they again indicated who they believed would win. We observed a robust desirability bias—individuals updated their beliefs more if the evidence was consistent (versus inconsistent) with their desired outcome. This bias was independent of whether the evidence was consistent or inconsistent with their prior beliefs. In contrast, we find limited evidence of an independent confirmation bias in belief updating. These results have implications for the relevant psychological theories and for political belief revision in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1143-1149
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2017

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