Joseph Marks, Eloise Copland, Eleanor Loh, Cass R. Sunstein & Tali Sharot, Epistemic Spillovers: Learning Others’ Political Views Reduces the Ability to Assess and Use Their Expertise in Nonpolitical Domains, 188 Cognition 74 (2019).
Abstract: On political questions, many people are especially likely to consult and learn from those whose political views are similar to their own, thus creating a risk of echo chambers or information cocoons. Here, we test whether the tendency to prefer knowledge from the politically like-minded generalizes to domains that have nothing to do with politics, even when evidence indicates that person is less skilled in that domain than someone with dissimilar political views. Participants had multiple opportunities to learn about others’ (1) political opinions and (2) ability to categorize geometric shapes. They then decided to whom to turn for advice when solving an incentivized shape categorization task. We find that participants falsely concluded that politically like-minded others were better at categorizing shapes and thus chose to hear from them. Participants were also more influenced by politically like-minded others, even when they had good reason not to be. The results demonstrate that knowing about others’ political views interferes with the ability to learn about their competency in unrelated tasks, leading to suboptimal information-seeking decisions and errors in judgement. Our findings have implications for political polarization and social learning in the midst of political divisions.