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Why do people choose their beliefs? : a new pluralist perspective on belief regulation Jettinghoff, William M.

Abstract

Why do people choose their beliefs? Research on this question has been dominated by a Traditional Monist Perspective, assuming that people think reasoning must always be in service of producing unbiased, evidence-based beliefs, embodying Epistemic Value. But recent research hints at the possibility that this may be an unwarranted assumption. People knowingly hold incorrect beliefs (Walco & Risen, 2017), prescribe morally motivated reasoning to others (Cusimano & Lombrozo, 2020), and report not caring that much about Epistemic Value when directly asked (Ståhl, Zaal, & Skitka, 2016; Pennycook, Cheyne, Koehler, & Fugelsang, 2019). Extending this work, I propose a New Pluralist Perspective, arguing that people find it worthwhile to believe in service of non-epistemic goals, embodying other values. Based on a review of the motivated reasoning literature, I propose a non-exhaustive list of three non-epistemic values about believing that people could explicitly endorse: (1) Emotional Value (that beliefs can be valuable by supporting positive emotions), (2) Moral Value (that beliefs can be valuable by supporting a moral agenda), and (3) Affiliative Value (that beliefs can be valuable by supporting meaningful affiliations). In Study 1 (n=456), I develop a self-report scale, the Values about Belief Scale (VBS), to measure endorsement of these values. In Study 2 (n=207), I assess the convergent validity of the Emotional Value subscale, and its relationship with emotionally motivated beliefs. In Study 3 (n=449), I explore how Emotional Value predicts palliative beliefs about the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, in Study 4 (n=200) I explore how the non-epistemic values predict a classic case of motivate reasoning in action: system justification. Results generally support the New Pluralist Perspective over the Traditional Monist Perspective. I discuss the implications of the New Pluralist Perspective for the study of belief regulation.

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