Thursday, January 22, 2009

Metacognition: Intellectual Attribution Bias

Drs. Shermer and Sulloway presented the question, "Why do other people believe in God?" to ten thousand Americans in 1998. The results lead them to formulate what they have entitled the intellectual attribution bias. In this series on metacognitive awareness and regulation, we now turn to the role of intellectual attribution bias.

The results of the Shermer and Sulloway query lead to the observation that the two most common reasons given for other peoples' belief in God were personal comfort ("comforting, relieving, consoling") and social comfort ("raised to believe"). Of great significance is the observation that the opposite was true for the reasons given to the question, "Why do you believe in God?" Most people answered that their personal belief in God was based on "good design, complexity, or beauty in nature" or "personal experience of God." It is alarmingly interesting that the reasons for personal belief are quantified in the opposite order of the reasons given for others' belief in God. In contrast to the personal comfort and social comfort attributions given for others' beliefs, personal belief was generally justified on the basis of intellectual reasons such as the appearance of design and personal experience.

The poll posted on this blog earlier today asked the same question and came up with similar results. Of all voters, 54% voted in favor of attributing others' belief in God to "comfort, consolation, meaning, and purpose." Another 44% of those who voted included a vote in favor of upbringing. Of the nine voters, only 11% cast a vote for the "good design, complexity, or beauty of nature." Those these categories are intentionally limited and overlapping, the majority vote falls in favor of personal comfort and social comfort ascriptions for how people view others' belief in God. A similar ascription would be predicted for describing why someone is a Republican, a Democratic, or a fan of the Green Party, and often, these ascriptions seem to be used for others of one's same persuasion.

Shermer states the following regarding his findings: "...these results are evidence of an intellectual attribution bias, in which people consider their own beliefs as being rationally motivated, whereas they see the beliefs of others as being emotionally driven" (Shermer, 2006, p. 38). Shermer (2006) also notes that the same bias is reflected in other fields of disagreement such as politics (p. 38).

Metacognitive awareness of the intellectual attribution bias could be displayed in an acknowledgment that one's beliefs and opinions are not always the result of objective thinking, intellect, and experience that we vaunt them to be. How often is such a bias illustrated in discussions between parties on different ends of any given area of disagreement? For example, atheists often attribute the beliefs of theists to personal comfort and social upbringing, not acknowledging that theists disagree with this attribution. However, theists likewise attribute the non-belief of atheists to subjective holdouts like bitterness, bad experiences with "those in the church," or lack of faith. In reality, each feels that she has more than reasonable justification for belief or lack of belief.

Metacognitive recognition of the intellectual attribution bias can manifest in multiple venues. For one, consider it worth noting that if the beliefs or ideas of someone else seem absolutely ridiculous or unfounded, there is a significant chance that you do not understand the beliefs or ideas. This is not to say that the other ideas or beliefs are correct, or that people are unqualified to assess other peoples' ideas or beliefs. This is to say that is is worth considering how well you understand the other before you reject it out of hand.



6 comments:

  1. I agree it is worth considering how well you understand the other before you reject it out of hand. Personally that is why this blog interests me. The sad thing that I see is that many people are unqualified to assess not only pther peoples' idea or beliefs but they are also unqualified to asses their own ideas or beliefs. Very well written blog I enjoyed reading it.

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  2. Hello Scrip,

    You said:

    "...if the beliefs or ideas of someone else seem absolutely ridiculous or unfounded, there is a significant chance that you do not understand the beliefs or ideas."

    I propose that rather than refer to the passage in Numbers 5 as an example of “Bible absurdities” you become aware of your prejudicial thinking and try to understand the Bible from the Ultimate Author’s point of view, rather than through the distorting prism of scoffing, scornful scholars and women’s liberation dogma.

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  3. Note to self: Its assess not asses you ass.

    Question to Tandi: Is it possible for man to have understanding from God's point of view?

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  4. Hello Zee,

    The Bible reveals the mind of God to the mind of man. The Enemy of our souls, beginning at Genesis 3:1 tempts and seduces with the question, “Yea, hath God said..?” casting doubt on the Word of God...baiting with the lure to “be your own god” ...without consequence. Atheism is ultimate skepticism. Authors such as Dawkins, Shermer, etc. are devils in disguise, pied pipers of perdition. Psalm 1 (God’s mind to ours) instructs us not to walk, stand, or sit with ungodly skeptics and scorners, i.e., atheists. Yet multitudes walk to the nearest library or bookstore, pick up the latest best seller atheist manifesto, and indulgently sit in the seat of the scornful, in direct rebellion to God’s Holy Word. The consequence is epidemic apostasy, as evidenced on this blog and blogroll. Beware.

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  5. Tandi,

    I think there is a a big different between the mind of God being revealed to the mind of man through the Bible and being shown what God is like from the Bible. I can't even manage correct spelling most of the time I really doubt that I can understand the full mind of God.

    Thanks for proving my point that anyone can twist the Bible to say whatever they want. Psalm 1 says,

    "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers."

    Jesus as an example did not purely interact with his followers.

    Epidemic apostasy how dramatic. Sigh...

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  6. Hello Tandi,

    You state, “I propose that rather than refer to the passage in Numbers 5 as an example of “Bible absurdities” you become aware of your prejudicial thinking and try to understand the Bible from the Ultimate Author’s point of view, rather than through the distorting prism of scoffing, scornful scholars and women’s liberation dogma.”

    I am aware of and openly confess my prejudices. However, my prejudice is not that of women’s liberation dogma. On the contrary, I am rather balanced and critical of women’s lib, and I recognize the varying degrees to which it has both helped and challenged family structures and the role of women.

    I also suggest that you remember that I made a commitment to biblical inerrancy when I was approximately ten, and I held to this belief until it was irreversibly challenged by example after example of absurdity, mundaneness, and error. If I had had an open mind, I would have seen the problems with inerrancy much earlier, but because I was so prejudicially committed to biblical inerrancy, these errors would unrecognized or “harmonized” for far too long. In fact, my next post on metacognition will relate to cognitive cell assemblies, schemata, and the law of Pragnaz.

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