Knowledge in International Relations: Susceptibilities to Motivated Reasoning Among Experts and Non-Experts


  • Peter Beattie
  • Danielle Snider


Motivated reasoning as a pervasive feature of human psychology poses challenges to the ideal of liberal democratic government, which relies on citizens’ rationality. Motivated reasoning is at least partially caused by a biased store of knowledge, a partial set of accumulated information that skews reasoning about important political issues. However, there is some evidence that specialized training in a given domain may reduce the effects of motivated reasoning within that domain. To test whether a similar phenomenon is evident in the field of international relations, a signal detection technique is used to measure knowledge of U.S. foreign policy among two samples, one of IR professors and one of laypersons. The results uncover significant differences between experts and nonexperts, indicating that training in IR helps to reduce biases in knowledge, potentially providing “knowledge constraints” on motivated reasoning. Nonetheless, some evidence of bias among IR professors remains, suggesting that knowledge constraints on motivated reasoning may not fully allay normative concerns of bias in the domain of international relations.