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Cognitive Biases and the Strength of Political Arguments

Authors


  • I would like to thank Temple University for the financial support making this research possible. I am grateful to Kevin Hockmuth, Kathy Seizer Javian, and Helaine Liwacz for their research assistance. Finally, the article benefited greatly from the comments I received from several people, including Rick Wilson, the anonymous reviewers, Jamie Druckman, Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, Jenn Jerit, Matt Levendusky, George Marcus, Rose McDermott, David Nickerson, Michael Peress, participants at the 8th Triennial Choice Symposium, Florida State University Political Science Colloquium, New York Area Political Psychology Colloquium, Temple University Social Psychology Seminar, and the University of California at Merced Social Science Seminar. Any errors remain my own. Replication files are available at http://www.astro.temple.edu/~arceneau/cogbias.zip.

Kevin Arceneaux is Associate Professor of Political Science, Temple University, Institute of Public Affairs, Faculty Affiliate, 453 Gladfelter Hall, 1115 West Berks St., Philadelphia, PA 19122 (kevin.arceneaux@temple.edu).

Abstract

Competition in political debate is not always sufficient to neutralize the effects of political rhetoric on public opinion. Yet little is known about the factors that shape the persuasiveness of political arguments. In this article, I consider whether cognitive biases influence the perceived strength of political arguments, making some arguments more persuasive than others. Lessons from neurobiology and recent political psychology research on emotion lead to the expectation that individuals are more likely to be persuaded by political arguments that evoke loss aversion via a fearful response—even in the face of a counterargument. Evidence from two experiments corroborates this expectation. I consider the normative implications of these empirical findings and potential avenues for future research.

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