Does Education Make you Stupider? Pt. 2

Well, the first post didn’t quite have that name but that was kind of the message.  In a nutshell, that post discussed research showing that a better basic understanding of science made for more intense partisanship. Now a short article in The Atlantic describes a somewhat similar exercise generated by More in Common, but this time directly addressing partisanship itself. Basically, this summarizes a study asking people questions about the beliefs of their political opposites.  And once again, more education seems to make people misjudge reality.

Honestly, this is discouraging. But wait–it gets more bizarre.

Basically Democrats lacking a high school education had a pretty firm fix on the opinions of members of the Republican party, correctly estimating what fraction of Republicans agreed or disagreed with certain policy statements. But as you go up the education ladder, Democrats get worse and worse.  Republicans, on the other hand, are pretty much the same at all levels with no discernible correlation with education.  The study claims this is because graduate-educated Democrats have few or no Republican friends.

Now there are a number of other interesting correlations that are probably less surprising. The more you consume political news, the more you vilify your political opponents. And the more you share political news on social media, the more you vilify your opponents.  Basically, the farther in the echo chamber you go, the more you think your political opponents are utterly hopeless.

So there you go. Media consumption and education make you more ignorant. So if you ever wanted an excuse to become oblivious to the news, here’s your excuse.


9 responses to “Does Education Make you Stupider? Pt. 2”

  1. Paul Braterman says :

    Among other things, a reminder of the damage we do ourselves on social media, and how algorithms tend to make us, in the worst possible way, even more like ourselves than we already.

    Writing from the UK, I can think of only two friends who would even contemplate voting Conservative, and only one who supported Brexit in the referendum.

    Every time I look up a book on Amazon (I use Amazon for readers’ reviews, although I make my purchases elsewhere), Amazon tweaks my profile further in the same direction.

    And, as we have seen, the way in which educated liberals look down condescendingly on their more conservative opponents has results that are truly deplorable

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Sunstone says :

    Would you happen to think the portion of the population that is willfully stupid might also be on the rise as a consequence of the increase in echo chambers and filter bubbles?


    • Paul Braterman says :

      Well, that’s what all my friends tell me

      Liked by 1 person

    • cjonescu says :

      Certainly the effect in this study reflects echo chambers and the like–you are more apt to fear that with which you are least familiar. Many New Zealanders, who do crazy things like bungy jumping, were astounded when they learned I would backpack where there were bears and mountain lions, which are absent in their country. Similarly, the greatest animosity towards immigrants is typically found in places with few or none. But “willfully stupid” covers something more. Hmm. There has been a long decline in trust in authority going back at least to the 1960s (it is a bit of an American tradition). American Catholics by and large pick and choose among church teachings. News organizations are increasingly dismissed as inherently biased (shades of Nixon’s appeal to the “silent majority”). Distrust of government from both ends of the spectrum has increased. We’re now seeing scientists vilified as fortune seeking carpetbaggers–again from both ends (take money from a chemical company, you must be in their pocket. Get a grant for climate research, must be your results have to show climate changing). It is harder to say how much is caused by echo chambers and filter bubbles and how much reflects a retreat into those as people think their own conclusions are the only ones they can trust–ill-founded or accurate as they might be. Of course, it is now far easier to land in a bubble than before.
      I think people underestimate their ability to fool themselves…


      • Paul Braterman says :

        I am, echoing Paul Sunstone, deeply concerned about how things like Amazon’s book suggestions or Twitter’s feed encourage me to be even more like myself that I am already. It’s not just the bubbles remake for ourselves; it’s the bubbles that the algorithms assign us to


  3. Paul Braterman says :

    we make, ofc, not “remake” (damnded VCR)


  4. cjonescu says :

    Other bubbles. Academic libraries are becoming computer workspaces and student study halls. Used to be that going into the stacks, you might stumble on something shelved near the thing you were going to find. Now you find that book online or you request it to be scanned or pulled from off-campus storage and so you don’t’ see that serendipitous find. While Amazon suggestions might well point you in a self-reinforcing direction, part of it too is that you aren’t browsing through other stuff. Convenience maybe has been carried too far.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Paul Sunstone says :

    Perhaps of interest here, about a two years ago, I came across a reference to a study of “authoritarian followers” — people who prefer authoritarian leaders, of course — that found in America they had been more or less evenly divided between the Republicans and the Democrats, but were now gravitating towards the Republicans. The authors suggested this was contributing to the radicalization of the Republican Party, its failure to compromise with the Democrats on nearly any issue, and thus the divisiveness in the country. More to the point, the authors pointed to right wing media like Fox News and talk radio as possible causes of the movement.

    On an anecdotal level, it seems like if you know someone’s views on one issue these days, you know their views on almost every issue, especially if they are on the right, but also now if they are on the left. I can’t recall if I was under that same impression 40 years ago or not. Forty years ago seems to me about when this current wave of echo chambers got started — with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting under Reagan, and the immediate launch of Rush Limbaugh’s career as a political commentator.


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