Character  &  Context

Why the Torture Report Won’t Actually Change Anyone’s Views On Torture

Image of policeman pressing suspect against a table

By Dave Nussbaum

In Time Magazine this week, psychologist Matt Motyl(@mattmotyl) explains the psychology of why the recent torture report isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind:

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Research, though, suggests that it is not so easy to separate fact from belief. And our beliefs change what “facts” we decide count as facts. Furthermore, once we decide something is a moral issue and that our position owns the moral high ground, facts become less relevant. If they do not confirm our belief, we assume that the facts were produced by people who were biased by some ulterior motive. For example, Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who generally supported the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and opposed the declassification of the CIA torture memo, responded in a joint statement saying that the “study by Senate Democrats is an ideologically motivated and distorted recounting of historical events.” In contrast, President Obama, who generally opposed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, responded to the release of the report by saying it “reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national-security interests.” In other words, supporters and opponents of torture, or conservatives and liberals alike, exhibited the same motivated cognitive bias where they evaluated information in ways to confirm their beliefs.

Read the whole story here

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