Disagreement Is Far

Yet more evidence that it is far mental modes that cause disagreement:

Recruiting a sample of Americans via the internet, they polled participants on a set of contentious US policy issues, such as imposing sanctions on Iran, healthcare and approaches to carbon emissions. One group was asked to give their opinion and then provide reasons for why they held that view. This group got the opportunity to put their side of the issue, in the same way anyone in an argument or debate has a chance to argue their case.

Those in the second group did something subtly different. Rather that provide reasons, they were asked to explain how the policy they were advocating would work. They were asked to trace, step by step, from start to finish, the causal path from the policy to the effects it was supposed to have.

The results were clear. People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop in how they rated their understanding of the issues. (more; paper; HT Elliot Olds)

The question “why” evokes a far mode while “how” which evokes a near mode.

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  • IMASBA

    “The question “why” evokes a far mode while “how” which evokes a near mode.”

    Don’t you mean it’s the other way around as in being able to admit you’re wrong or not as well informed as you thought you were being an example of far thinking (or does the “how” lead to near thinking because the softening of positions was actually the converging to a group-majority view under peer pressure, which can be considered as near thinking)?

    • anon

      See the following : http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Near/far_thinking .

      Mr. Hanson has spent a lot of time writing about near and far thinking, and they obviously have been clearly defined, and studied.

      In the end, how you call them doesn’t really matter.

      • IMASBA

        In this case what is far and what is near is not clear as I see I’m not the only one who is confused.

        Matthew Graves provides an answer that could make sense but it depends on what you believe about how people arrive at their political views on average and what drives the softening of views when asked the question “how”.

        I see the stubborn answers to the question “why” as regurgitation of dogmatic believes, what people have been thaught to be compatible with certain ideals while most people have never questioned whether those believes are really compatible with the idea, that would be near thinking, of course if you believe people have really thought about their ideals and what kind of believes those ideals would translate to then being stubborn indicates far thinking.

        I see the softening of stances as far thinking because I believe it represents self-reflection and a realization that one’s ideals might require different approaches than what one has been taught. I again believe this because I believe most such political opinions are dogmatic and not well thought-out. If you believe the opposite then softening of stances might indicate that people trying to avoid practical costs of ideals and/or giving in to group pressure and that would be near thinking.

  • Will

    “The question “why” evokes a far mode while “how” which evokes a near mode.”

    This seems backwards. When asked why they believed something, their opinions remained fixed. When asked how their opinions would produce an effect, their opinions softened.

    • Matthew Graves

      In far mode, people deal with ideals. Reasons why to do something are likely to be ideals: “we should sanction Iran because they should be punished for their misdeeds, because justice is important.”

      In near mode, people deal with practicality. Explanations how to do something are likely to be practical: “if we sanction Iran, the people will be poorer and less exposed to American media and goods, which… actually, wait, is that going to help? Maybe we should be flooding the country with blue jeans and Friends reruns.”

  • Trevor Blake

    Sir Karl Popper wrote about something similar. Emphasis on political ends (why) will allow for justification of poor means. Emphasis on means (how) will lessen that risk. If the end is ‘no more murder’ then execution of murderers will achieve that end (when there is one person left). If the means are ‘I / we will not murder’ then a lessening of murder will result.

  • Kenny

    I feel like you’re (inadvertently) downplaying this. This seems *huge* to me! I know, as one example, that I’ve had a lot more success estimating projects when I carefully consider *how* I’m going to complete the relevant tasks. I also think that I’ve observed, in myself, what was described in the quote you provided, namely that thinking about how something is to be done softens my views relative to why it should be done.

    Scott Sumner, responding to a post by Bryan Caplan, seems to have discovered something similar with regard to the Chinese one-child policy and the horrors of how it’s implemented.