Degree Program: 

Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Behavior




Peter Ditto

Other information: 

I am primarily interested in using novel methods and Big Data to scientifically study motivated reasoning -- how our most firmly held beliefs (about politics, morality, our health, happiness, and logic itself) can be flawed, biased, and distorted without our awareness. 

To date, my research spans three major areas:

Political ideology and morality:

  • The Liberal-Conservative Happiness Gap: My dissertation research (in progress) suggests that the liberal-conservative happiness gap, in which conservatives frequently report greater happiness than liberals, may be a result of self-serving biases in self-reports. Using linguistic analyses of text and FACS coding of photographs from the U.S. Congressional Record, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I find that liberals, rather than conservatives, tend to express more frequent positive emotionality.
  • Mirror-image political stereotyping: My master's thesis identified the affective processes that lead to mirror-image political stereotyping (the tendency for liberals and conservatives to endorse identical political stereotypes about each other).
  • Support for the Tea Party movement: Other ongoing research investigates the moral and psychological underpinnings of support for the Tea Party movement.
  • YourMorals.Org: I am fortunate to be a part of an ongoing collaboration with Jonathan Haidt, Pete Ditto, Jesse Graham, Ravi Iyer, Sena Koleva, and Matt Motyl in the development of YourMorals.Org, a research platform that allows users to build their own psychological and moral profiles by participating in online studies, while providing personalized feedback and up-to-date scientific information about political and moral psychology.  

Self-enhancement bias:

Heuristic vs. systematic processing styles:

  • "Truthiness": Some of my ongoing research investigates whether liberals and conservatives are differentially susceptible to belief bias.  Early results suggest that these groups have similar levels of abstract logical reasoning ability, but that conservatives are more susceptible to belief bias (the tendency to erroneously judge logical arguments by the believability of their conclusions, rather than by the logical coherence of the entire arguments).  I am also investigating this phenomenon within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Ideological Bias Symmetry/Asymmetry: In collaboration with Brittany Liu, Pete Ditto, Cory Clark, Eric Chen, and Becky Grady, we are investigating whether biased assimilation effects are more pronounced among political liberals or political conservatives (in preparation). Early results indicate that levels of bias observed on the Left and Right are similar in magnitude.
  • Health Risk Perceptions: Along with Virginia Kwan and other colleagues, I've also published work on how heuristic judgments distort health risk perceptions.  We've found that certain presentation formats of health information induce heuristic styles of judgment, leading to predictably distorted health risk perceptions.  This research has recently received a media attention from Fox News, the Huffington Post, and Newsweek.

Links to all of my published work can be found on my Google Scholar profile page.