’Knowledge Resistance: Causes, Consequences, and Cures’ is a multidiciplinary research program funded by the independent foundation Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ).
The main objective of this interdisciplinary program is to investigate the nature and causes of knowledge resistance. We live in a world where we have increasingly sophisticated ways of acquiring and communicating knowledge, but at the same time, efforts to spread this knowledge often encounter resistance. Since knowledge has an important instrumental value, to the individual and to the society as a whole, knowledge resistance has consequences. For example, The World Health Organization lists skepticism about vaccines as one of the current top ten threats to world health, and climate skepticism has led important actors to resist the types of changes required to prevent irreversible climate catastrophes. Similarly, resistance to policy relevant knowledge, such as about crime or immigration, poses challenges for a democratic society.
Knowledge resistance is the failure to accept available knowledge. In the sense employed by the program, knowledge resistance is not an attitude towards knowledge that people consciously adopt. Rather, it is a more or less systematic failure of our cognitive systems to respond with proper sensitivity to evidence available to us (i.e. to information provided by our senses, other people, the media, etc.). Thus, a knowledge resistant belief forming process is one that does not produce, retain, or change belief in a rational way in reaction to the available evidence. Knowledge resistance is therefore a type of irrationality, more precisely a type of what philosophers call theoretical rationality (to be distinguished from practical irrationality, the irrationality of decision making). Cognitive systems can be more or less knowledge resistant, and particular parts of cognitive systems might be so only under specific circumstances.
A central hypothesis is that knowledge resistance is the result of a complex interaction between emotions, cognition, social interaction and the flow of information. This means that a proper investigation of the phenomenon requires a genuinely interdisciplinary approach. Research on the topic so far has been scattered across disciplines, and there has been no attempt to provide a coherent, unified framework within which to properly investigate this phenomenon. For the first time, this program brings together groups of researchers from philosophy, psychology, political science and media research, using a wide range of empirical and analytical methods to systematically investigate knowledge resistance, its nature, causes and consequences.
The program is organized around four interconnected work packages:
I) Foundational questions concerning the nature of knowledge resistance. This work package examines the specific types of irrationality involved in knowledge resistant belief formation, and how even normally well-functioning cognitive systems are exploitable to produce knowledge resistance. Principal investigator is Kathrin Glüer, Professor in Theoretical Philosophy, Stockholm University.
II) The motivational roots of knowledge resistance. This work package examines how individuals’ social identity needs interact with contextual factors both to increase and mitigate rejection of evidence, and how changes in motivated reasoning affect attitudes towards, and relations to one’s own and other groups. Principal investigator is Torun Lindholm, Professor in Social psychology at Stockholm University.
III) Potential consequences of knowledge resistance on the democratic process. This work package examines how partisanship and ideology may lead citizens to err in judgment, embrace biased perceptions and misevaluate evidence. Principal investigator is Henrik Ekengren Oscarsson, Professor in Political Science, Electoral Studies, University of Gothenburg.
IV) The role of media, media use, and media trust. This work package examines the supply of misinformation on different types of both traditional news media and digital media; processes of selective exposure and how these are influenced by pre-existing attitudes and beliefs; processes of selective attention and how these are influenced by pre-existing attitudes and beliefs; and the mediating and moderating role of media trust and hostile media perceptions in terms of influencing selective exposure, selective attention, and respondents’ attitudes and beliefs. Principal investigator is Jesper Strömbäck, Professor in Journalism and Political Communication at the University of Gothenburg.