“Should I Trust the Bank or the Social Movement?” Motivated Reasoning and Debtors' Work to Accept Misinformation1

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How can people believe corporate and state misinformation even if a social movement organization in their community has been countering this misinformation for years? Why do people knowingly accept misinformation without even being upset about it? I address these questions by analyzing ethnographic data and interviews with 84 Chilean low-income housing debtors, whom, like many Chileans, are victims of financial misinformation. While the state and banks had significant agency in inducing the unproblematic acceptance of misinformation, debtors also played an active role in the processes. First, debtors had to decide whom to trust, which was not only a cognitive problem about evidence but also a behavioral and practical problem involving risks. Second, debtors engaged in “motivated reasoning”—affect-driven biased information processing—to dismiss the possibility of being misinformed, to downplay the significance of misinformation, and to direct blame away from misinforming institutions. The latter two practices reduced debtors' anger about being misinformed. The findings have implications for studies of social movement framing and counterinformation, for the cognitive psychology of misinformation, and for the sociology and social psychology of acquiescence.

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