This grant was awarded to Gabriela Czarnek from the National Science Centre (2022-2025, no. UMO-2021/43/D/HS6/03353).
Industries, politicians, and interest groups often cast doubt on scientific or policy evidence to defend
their causes. This strategy, called “doubt mongering”, is to insist that science is unsettled and we
cannot be certain about an issue yet. Hence, it is premature and not wise to act, either on the policy
level or by individual actions. Independent research confirmed that, indeed, even small dissent
among scientists leads to a significant decrease in public support for the policy. Given a common
assumption in psychology, philosophy, or economy, that people strive for certainty, the effectiveness
of “doubt mongering” strategies poses interesting questions: Why does even mentioning uncertainty
undermines otherwise overwhelming evidence and leads to a decrease in policy support? Why
negligible minority can effectively cast doubt on the public’s beliefs and attitudes? Relatedly, what
information processing strategies do people use when confronted with evidence that contradicts
their beliefs or values? What strategies are useful and when? Furthermore, given that the political
Right, as compared to the Left, has a lower tolerance for uncertainty, is there an ideological
asymmetry in preferences for not knowing?
In this research, I propose a critical review and extension of motivated reasoning analysis of people’s
beliefs related to science and politics. In contrast to existing theorizing, we propose that people not
always seek certainty. Instead, uncertainty might be sometimes more desirable than certainty. We
also investigate whether these tendencies are symmetric across the ideological spectrum.
Furthermore, we question the assumption that biased belief updating is due to effortless information
strategies or “mental short-cuts”, while unbiased outcomes are due to effortful information
processing. We suggest that people might undertake a wide range of information processing
strategies to reach the conclusions they want: these strategies might include information gathering
or avoidance, careful or effortless information processing.
Understanding these issues seems to be especially important given the uncertainties of everyday life
and the future of the (post-pandemic) world. This project can help in understanding why people and
societies polarize, extending existing theorizing and empirical analyses. It can also provide knowledge
for designing interventions aimed at bridging ideological gaps. It could also provide guidelines on
how to communicate science and policies that enhance particular motivations and strategies of