Eric Luis Uhlmann
Professor of Organisational Behaviour
What people believe to be true and what they wish were true can be quite different. One way to resolve conflicts between belief and desire is to engage in biased reasoning in a way that brings beliefs about facts in line with heartfelt desires.Indeed, considerable research has documented ways in which people evaluate evidence in a biased manner in order to reach a particular conclusion (Kunda, 1990). For instance, classic work on biased assimilation indicates that people whose political convictions are inconsistent with the findings of scientific studies derogate the methodology of such studies (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979).However, the question of whether such bias in reasoning is due to the motivation to reach a particular conclusion or to purely cognitive factors, such as preexisting theories, expectations, and beliefs, remains an important theoretical issue (Ditto & Lopez, 1992; Dunning, Leuenberger, & Sherman, 1995; Kunda, 1990; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Sherman & Cohen, 2002; Tetlock & Levi, 1982). In the present study, the authors examined whether desires would trump beliefs based on facts when participants evaluated scientific evidence and whether, after being exposed to ambiguous evidence, participants would change their initial beliefs to conform to their plans and desires.The authors focused on would-be parents who planned to use day care for their children even though they believed day care to be inferior to home care. Such conflicted individuals, despite their initial belief that home care is superior, should desire to conclude that day care is just as good for children as home care.