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Trump gives a master class in ‘motivated reasoning’ and its cousins

I don’t claim to have the secret to knowing the truth. But I do know one of the secrets to not knowing the truth. That would be to look at all the facts, and only believe the ones that tell you that the truth is what you wish the truth was.

This is sometimes called “motivated reasoning,” which is a method by which a person can believe that what they wish were true is actually true, basically by accepting only evidence that supports the truth of what one wishes were true, and disregarding evidence to the contrary.

Motivated reasoning is a close cousin of the twin demons of “selective perception” and “confirmation bias.” All these are enemies of clear thinking.

The current occupant of the Oval Office gave a master class in all of the above with a tweet this morning celebrating a poll result. It reads:

Thank you to Rasmussen for the honest polling. Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.

It’s true. The latest Rasmussen poll on approval/disapproval of President Trump’s performance of his job as president shows him with 50 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval in the three-day period ending April 1.

It’s also true that Rasmussen is the only reputable pollster who shows Trump’s approval rating that high. Gallup, by contrast, in its latest weekly result completed on Saturday, showed Trump with 55 percent disapproval and 39 percent approval.

Despite its long history and prestige, I don’t swear by Gallup. And, despite the suspicions of some liberals, I view Rasmussen as reputable, although something about their methodology seems to lead to them often reaching results that Republicans like.

Many other reputable pollsters, in fact, all reputable pollsters other than Rasmussen, show the president with a rating that is below water, meaning more disapprovers than approvers.

Through the miracle of “selective perception” and “confirmation bias,” the current incumbent is able to convince himself (and perhaps convince many of his Twitter followers) that his approval rating is doing well, especially compared to his despised predecessor, whose first name is actually “Barack” and not “Cheatin’.”

Maybe Rasmussen is the only major pollster that knows how to measure approval. There’s not really any way to know.

But it strikes me as more likely that Trump has a problem with selective perception/motivated reasoning, or at least thinks his base does.

Here’s a paragraph from the Wikipedia article on motivated reasoning:

The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”.[2] This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives.

And here’s Phillip Bump of the Washington Post’s reaction to Trump’s Rasmussen tweet, which puts it into the larger context of Trump’s selective perception habits. It’s headlined: “The only information Trump supports is information that makes him look good.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/03/2018 - 03:28 pm.

    A new level of disrespect

    I’m not sure, but I think this is the first time he has attached one of his precious little “nicknames” to an actual previous U.S. President.

    A new level of disrespect . . . . . . . . .

    • Submitted by Misty Martin on 04/04/2018 - 11:56 am.

      I agree. It is MOST disrespectful.

      And just what is President Obama supposed to have cheated about? This is MOST grating to me coming from a known womanizer, liar, self-indulgent, uninformed, rude person as our current P.O.T.U.S. certainly seems to be.

      I read a news article today that proclaimed that the reason so many evangelicals have stuck by President Trump is that he is now a born-again Christian, and they “forgive” him for anything that he did before he became President. I’ve never heard him declare he was a born-again Christian – did I miss something?
      I know that Vice President Pence has proclaimed to be a born-again Christian, and I’ll accept that, but all I’ve ever heard President Trump proclaim is that he believes in God. In James 2:19, NKJV, it states: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!”

      I believe that a born-again Christian would be apologizing for MOST of the rude comments and insults that he has been known to tweet and that have come out of his own mouth, and I haven’t heard ANY apologies – only the insistence that he is persecuted and that there is “fake news” out there.

      I like the political cartoon I saw over this past Easter holiday, where it showed in a private section of the White House, the devil, removing his “Trump” mask, and remarking that he was most proud of his
      evangelical following. I thought that one really hit the mark.

      By the way, I am a born-again Christian, and no, I did NOT vote for President Trump – a fact I am SO VERY proud of!!!

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/03/2018 - 04:34 pm.

    Or rather

    Trump speaks without ANY reasoning.

  3. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/03/2018 - 09:24 pm.


    Upon criticism for congratulation Putin on his reelection, Trump’s response:

    “Obama did it too”

    Upon criticism for wanting to deploy more boots at the border, Trump’s response:

    “Obama did it too”

    Funny, all he does is devote time and energy to undue anything and everything Obama did and yet he see’s matching Obama as justification for any criticism aimed at him.

    And another way to restate Eric’s comments above:

    “Rationalization is the key to metal health”

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 04/04/2018 - 08:18 am.

    All it takes to be a Republican.

    In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”.

  5. Submitted by John Appelen on 04/04/2018 - 11:37 am.


    In this case he apparently is telling the truth at least… It is sad when I have to be somewhat happy that the POTUS uttered a truth… No matter how delusional it is in the scope of the big picture. 🙁

    On the other hand, approval / disapproval is catchy… And perception is reality. If he keeps saying it, maybe some folks will shift.

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