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The Wished-For Always Wins Until the Winner Was Inevitable All Along: Motivated Reasoning and Belief Bias Regulate Emotion During Elections

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Abstract

How do biases affect political information processing? A variant of the Wason selection task, which tests for confirmation bias, was used to characterize how the dynamics of the recent U.S. presidential election affected how people reasoned about political information. Participants were asked to evaluate pundit-style conditional claims like “The incumbent always wins in a year when unemployment drops” either immediately before or immediately after the 2012 presidential election. A three-way interaction between ideology, predicted winner (whether the proposition predicted that Obama or Romney would win), and the time of test indicated complex effects of bias on reasoning. Before the election, there was partial evidence of motivated reasoning—liberals performed especially well at looking for falsifying information when the pundit's claim predicted Romney would win. After the election, once the outcome was known, there was evidence of a belief bias—people sought to falsify claims that were inconsistent with the real-world outcome rather than their ideology. These results suggest that people seek to implicitly regulate emotion when reasoning about political predictions. Before elections, people like to think their preferred candidate will win. After elections, people like to think the winner was inevitable all along.

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