Study: Irrational thinking is driving EU Referendum result


LONDON, England – New research from ‘The Online Privacy Foundation’ shows that a voter’s ability to think rationally about the evidence for leaving or remaining in the EU depends on whether or not that evidence supports their existing views.

Most people are unable to interpret a set of numbers correctly if the evidence doesn’t support their existing and usually psychologically biased position on a topic. This happens to voters on both sides of the referendum debate. But there are differing levels of this phenomenon depending on which side of the debate someone is instinctively drawn to.

Research organization ‘The Online Privacy Foundation’ has released interim findings from a series of Facebook studies examining the psychological biases, personality traits and attitudes of 8,995 voters in this week’s Referendum on the UK’s EU membership.

For instance, in the context of the debate about immigration and the EU, given a set of ‘fake’ numerical evidence about the effects of immigration on crime:

• ‘Leave’ voters do significantly worse at interpreting the numbers than ‘Remain’ voters if those numbers show that immigration decreases crime. But they return to their normal performance if the numbers show that immigration increases crime.

• ‘Remain’ voters typically have a much better grasp of how to accurately interpret statistics and numerical information. But, they also slip in performance if numerical evidence runs counter to their views. When the numbers show that immigration increases crime, they no longer beat the ‘Leavers’ in doing the maths.

The Online Privacy Foundation also found that voters:

• Overestimated their ability on a logic test to be much higher than it really was.

• Are likely to discount the validity of a numerical test if they are told voters with opposing views tend to get more questions right in the test.

• Make predictably riskier choices depending on how the choices are phrased.

The study, one of ten the organization has conducted on the EU Referendum, replicated research by Yale Professor, Dan Kahan and observed the same phenomenon. Kahan’s research was dubbed ‘The Most Depressing Brain Finding Ever’.