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The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever “Get It”?

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Abstract

In order to update candidate evaluations voters must acquire information and determine whether that new information supports or opposes their candidate expectations. Normatively, new negative information about a preferred candidate should result in a downward adjustment of an existing evaluation. However, recent studies show exactly the opposite; voters become more supportive of a preferred candidate in the face of negatively valenced information. Motivated reasoning is advanced as the explanation, arguing that people are psychologically motivated to maintain and support existing evaluations. Yet it seems unlikely that voters do this ad infinitum. To do so would suggest continued motivated reasoning even in the face of extensive disconfirming information. In this study we consider whether motivated reasoning processes can be overcome simply by continuing to encounter information incongruent with expectations. If so, voters must reach a tipping point after which they begin more accurately updating their evaluations. We show experimental evidence that such an affective tipping point does in fact exist. We also show that as this tipping point is reached, anxiety increases, suggesting that the mechanism that generates the tipping point and leads to more accurate updating may be related to the theory of affective intelligence. The existence of a tipping point suggests that voters are not immune to disconfirming information after all, even when initially acting as motivated reasoners.

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