The research program Knowledge Resistance (funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond) aims to investigate the nature and causes of knowledge resistance.
Knowledge resistance is the failure to accept available knowledge. This phenomenon has consequences. The World Health Organization lists skepticism about vaccines as a top ten threat to world health. Climate skepticism slows societies’ responses to climate threats. Democratic debate and policy action can be hampered when agents fail to accept knowledge about topics like crime, or immigration.
The project defines “knowledge resistance” not as a conscious attitude, but as a failure of our cognitive systems to respond with proper sensitivity to available evidence (including information provided by our senses, other people, the media, etc.). 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 what philosophers call “theoretical irrationality” (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 of the project 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. So far, research on the topic has been scattered across disciplines, with no attempt to provide a coherent, unified framework for all investigations. This program brings together groups of researchers from philosophy, psychology, political science and media research, and uses 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Knowledge Resistance: Causes, Consequences, and Cures is funded by the independent foundation Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ). The program leader, Åsa Wikforss, is professor of Theoretical Philosophy at Stockholm University, which also has an information page dedicated to the project.