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Mindful : October 2017
in a way that they weren’t a few generations ago. Salient categories of self-identification (Patriots fan) are exactly the kind that skew our percep- tions and judgments. Affiliations create filters that govern how peo- ple’s actions and assertions are perceived and make it hard for people to see eye to eye. Many liberals hold up Bill Clinton as a hero, while conservatives see him as a disgraced president who narrowly avoided being convicted by the Senate after his 1998 impeachment. And liberals are of course not immune to believing myths shared by members of the cognitive tribe they identify with. According to a 2007 poll, 40% who described themselves as liberals said the US government perpetrated the 9/11 attack or allowed it to happen. Likewise, cognitive tribalism is at work when supporters and non-supporters of Donald Trump see two very different people. If it seems incredible to some that supporters accept his assertion that 5 million people voted illegally or that his inauguration crowd dwarfed all others, it shouldn’t . “They see him as their voice,” Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant and pollster, told reporters last May. “And when their voice is shouted down, disrespected, or simply ignored, that is an attack on them, not just an attack on Trump.” When one is attacked, one doubles down on a belief if that belief forms an import- ant basis for self-identification. “Affect and cognition evolved together, and we don’t make any political decisions strictly cognitively,” said Emory University psychologist Drew Westen, who applies psychological science to politics. The more a politician’s supporters feel that that support defines them, and then perceive that he is being attacked, the more likely they are to succumb to the cog nitive tribalism that leads people to agree with false, debunked statements...as long as doing so strengthens their sense of belonging and identity. ● The cognitive bias that looks at our own group more favor- ably than others’ has been discussed for over a century. Sociologist William Sumner, in 1906, wrote about the opposi- tion in our minds between the “we-group” and the “others- groups.” In the “struggle for existence,” he postulated, a BRAINWARE | Us vs. Them person tends to show favor- itism toward their own group, and ultimately, “looks with contempt on outsiders.” His “ethnocentrism” has since broadened to “in-group bias,” the tendency to exaggerate the positive qualities of those we identify with and ascribe negative traits to outsiders. October 2017 mindful 23