Motivated Reasoning (MR) and the BIAS FREE Framework

Posted on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Author: Gregor Wolbring and Manel Djebrouni

Gregor Wolbring

Gregor Wolbring: Genomics Cluster Collaborator, @Risk Project, ISSP, uOttawa
Associate Professor, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary

Manel Djebrouni: Undergraduate student in the Bachelor in Community Rehabilitation, University of Calgary.

Motivated reasoning (MR) is about the dynamic where wants and desires have the potential to affect decision-making processes and how information is processed. We were exposed to MR as part of a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant led by PI Monica Gattinger called @Risk: Strengthening Canada’s Ability to Manage Risk. MR was identified as influencing risk management capacity and influencing expert and lay public assessments of risk. One of the objectives of the research project is to assess the role of risk information, communication and other practices/structures to account for MR in risk decision-making. 

In the article, we outlined some MR background, found that MR is not engaged with in relation to disabled people, and highlighted the impact of MR on disabled people - including MR influencing evidence generation, media content, relationship between groups and people, biases people hold, public, academic and policy discourses related to decision making, funding decisions and the selection of academic projects one might want to work on. Finally, we recommended studies that should be done around MR and disabled people.

Why we chose to focus on MR and disabled people:

MR is particularly present if highly divergent information is available to choose from to justify irreconcilable positions where one can choose one side or the other. People often use stereotypes to strengthen their MR and MR is used to strengthen stereotypes.

In relation to disabled people, there are three discourses that are contested: one is linked to the classification of the body of the disabled person (medical or negative or neutral or positive); a second is whether one perceives the disablement the disabled person experiences to originate a) within the person, b) the environment, or c) in both and the third discourse is what abilities are expected from a person. As we state in the article “MR behavior in relation to the perception of disabled people, the nature of disablement and what abilities are expected of people impacts all aspects of the lives of disabled people including how people relate to disabled people, how the media portray disabled people, the development of policies, the generation of evidence and the involvement of disabled people in decision making.”

Let us highlight one area discussed briefly in the article in more detail here.

MR and the BIAS FREE Framework

BIAS FREE stands for Building an Integrative Analytical System For Recognizing and Eliminating inEquities. It’s a framework developed by Mary Anne Burke and Margit Eichler as a tool for identifying biases that derive from social hierarchies. The Framework poses 20 questions that indicate biases that help maintain hierarchies in three main sections: H-Maintaining an Existing Hierarchy; F-Failing to Examine Differences; and D-Using Double Standards.

For any of the 20 diagnostic questions outlining various biases that derive from various social hierarchies, the yes answer to the diagnostic questions increases if MR is present. An example question is H1 Denying hierarchy: Is the existence of a hierarchy denied in spite of widespread evidence to the contrary? We submit that MR dynamics allow denying a hierarchy based on the information one exposes oneself to.

We find that only very few of the diagnostic questions might also be decreased due to MR. For instance, the Yes answer to the diagnostic questions “Is the perspective or standpoint of the dominant group adopted?” and “Are norms derived Acknowledge diversity; exclude norms from the dominant group and then derived from a social hierarchy” could decrease under certain circumstances if the non-dominant group simply does not listen to the dominant group anymore. However, such a decrease in a Yes answer to these two diagnostic questions does not mean that the dominant group accepts the non-dominant group. Furthermore, MR applied to the diagnostic question could increase partisanship and polarization and as such would be still negative.

We submit that it might be worthwhile to investigate and analyze in depth the impact of MR on the 20 diagnostic questions of BIAS FREE. For example, in our teaching we use the BIAS FREE Framework for students to identify existing biases in daily living and the information they access on and offline. The students see this assignment as an eye opener. In the future it might be worthwhile to investigate MR present in students at the same time as we give the students the BIAS FREE assignment.

We submit that the BIAS FREE framework might be a worthwhile focus in various risk communication research, but in particular research that focuses on socially devalued groups such as those with disabilities. We outline in the article that it is not that easy to eliminate MR. One way to mitigate the effect of MR is to be aware of the biases one has.  

*Manel Djebrouni and Gregor Wolbring recently published “Motivated reasoning and disabled people” in the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity journal.

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