Well, no duh, right? But, poking fun at the right-wing MAGA Nation rural Christian white folk isn’t exactly the point. Like it or not, these people inhabit the same planet and country that we do, so we have to make nice with them at some point so we can all live together… if our liberal democracy survives the authoritarian power grab they’re participating in, that is.
Making nice with people who have indirectly participated in the needless slaughter of over 700,000 fellow citizens and are trying hard to destroy our liberal democracy won’t be easy, especially since they are unlikely to (a) ever apologize, (b) ask for forgiveness, (c) promise never to do it again, or (d) offer to try and make it up to us. In fact, for the next generation — assuming we make it out of this mess with our democracy intact — we’ll have to be leary of them doing it all over again.
No, this isn’t about making fun of them, it is about rehabilitating them into being semi-reliable and kinda acceptable participants in the public sphere and tolerating them in polite company, again. That journey starts with building a bit of empathy and understanding. In that light, this study becomes important because it points out that people who believe in conspiracy theories are not necessarily stupid, they have just given in to that all too human cognitive tendency to be lazy thinkers.
Understanding critical thinking is essential. It is a tricky beast and isn’t as straightforward as many on social media would have you believe. So, let’s review some of what is known about analytical and critical thinking skills:
First, the article also does a good job of laying out exactly what analytical and critical thinking entails:
Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of a situation – and requires a number of cognitive skills.
These include the ability to think systematically, see other perspectives, change your mind when new evidence arises, identify relevant versus irrelevant information, identify and discard logical fallacies, be aware of biases and avoid them, and look beyond the obvious.John Elder
Second, thinking is hard, so we evolved to avoid doing it whenever possible. Cynical politicians and advertisers and self-promoters will exploit this tendency. If you find yourself in a perfect storm of being immersed in a bubble of disinformation, a frightening crisis erupting around, a world you thought you once understood changing radically, and the welcoming soothing arms of someone or a group who says they have all the answers, and guess what, they’re simple! You too could join the ranks of those who’ve ditched their critical thinking skills and embraced the easy answers. Just like venereal disease, we can all get the conspiracy bug.
And third, just because you use your super analytical critical thinking skills in one area of your life, it doesn’t mean that you don’t in others. Transferring thinking skills between informational domains is extremely difficult and often doesn’t happen without some kind of prompting. (NB: I just prompted you to use yours in other areas than you already do. Sneaky, hunh?)
It is so unlikely that teachers are advised to prompt students to use the thinking skills developed in the class next door or last year to your class. It just doesn’t happen spontaneously. It doesn’t happen for you; it doesn’t happen for me; and it doesn’t happen for those folks in MAGA Nation who almost certainly use some critical thinking in some aspect of their lives.
Remember that. We don’t want to be Othering MAGA Nation or dehumanizing them.
We need to see their failings in this moment as being part of the natural human frailty that we are all vulnerable to.
The article not only reports on the study — it’s out of France — which was a simple correlative study showing a link — Is it causal? We don’t know — between lower critical thinking skills and believing in conspiracy theories, it also refers to earlier studies that suggest that (a) analytical thinking can inoculate a person or population against conspiratorial thinking; (b) ten and twelve year olds can be taught analytical thinking skills, and if they can, surely your favorite drunk uncle can, too… okay, maybe not, right? and (c) a series 2016 studies that link that need to feel special and unique with being vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking — yes, we’re looking at you Kyrsten Sinema.
These other studies give us hope in not only understanding MAGA Nation, but in also in understanding what we need to do to help them return to the land of the rational. When dealing with your favorite drunk uncle or even your mom or dad who went down the rabbit hole of right-wing conspiracy theories, you should try to do these things: (a) locate the areas of their lives that they use their analytical and critical thinking skills in already — diagnosing automotive and mechanical problems and making decisions when cooking are two good areas where many people unwittingly use their higher order thinking skills; (b) encourage them to apply these same reasoning skills to other areas, especially shared areas of concern; and (c) help them get their specialness anti-authoritarianess stick-it to the man fix some other way.
Conspiracy theorists lack critical thinking skills: New study
John Elder on 25 July 2021
The more people believe in conspiracy theories, the worse they perform on critical thinking tests, a new study has confirmed.
This doesn’t mean that conspiracy theorists are necessarily lacking intelligence, but rather that they lack the skills to objectively analyse and evaluate a situation.
The good news is that people can be taught these skills, and to an extent be brought in from the dark side – but of course it’s complicated.
Continue reading on The New Daily: Conspiracy theorists lack critical thinking skills: New study
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