The U.S. political climate is often perceived as irrational, heavily polarized, and fueled by tribalism and misinformation. However, a new paper authored by Kevin Dorst, an MIT philosopher, posits a different perspective. He proposes that people may be behaving rationally as they arrive at their differing political views, especially when considering political and civic issues with a high degree of ambiguity. Furthermore, this rational polarization theory suggests that people’s prior assumptions about a subject can influence the way they interpret ambiguous evidence, leading them to reach different conclusions.
Ambiguity in political and civic information is believed to generate political asymmetry. According to Dorst’s online experiment involving 250 participants and incomplete letter strings, it was demonstrated that ambiguous information could significantly influence how individuals reacted to additional data. Dorst’s findings suggest that people have a tendency to selectively scrutinize information. They are more likely to find flaws in surprising information, such as uncertain or ambiguous evidence. Dorst emphasizes that rational polarization can help to offer a more nuanced understanding of how political differences arise when individuals process similar information.
In conclusion, Dorst’s theory of rational polarization serves as a useful alternative to other models of belief formation and suggests that people’s behavior may be more rational than previously assumed. It underscores the need for a more nuanced and consistent approach to understanding how differing political views are formed and suggests avoiding the biases of believing oneself to be rational while attributing others as irrational.