Emotions shape opinions. What does that mean for transit advocates? - Mobility Lab

This article is adapted from a shorter op-ed in our latest Express newsletter. If you want to hear from us first, subscribe here.

One of Duke University’s reasons for vetoing a light rail project is that construction would disrupt underground utilities that serve its medical center, as reported by the New York Times.

Multiple readers commented that this isn’t a problem for the scores of hospitals and universities located in cities with underground transportation.

That’s a great and important point to make. But unfortunately, the debate on transportation priorities in this country – like most issues – isn’t grounded in reason. People are irrational and make decisions emotionally.

It might be true that construction would disrupt work at Duke’s hospital. But there are plenty of anti-transit opinions that aren’t based on anything factual. Streetsfilms captured the craziest arguments against bike lanes at last week’s Bike Summit in Arlington, Va., with one opposer even claiming that bike lanes would cause terrorism.

This inability to change your mind, even when presented with solid evidence, astounded the late Yale psychologist Bob Abelson. Although Abelson wrote the following excerpt in 1995, it couldn’t ring truer today:

Throughout my academic career I have been fascinated by the capacity of holders of very strong attitudes to resist persuasive attempt at change. Public figures and ordinary folks alike often cling tenaciously to beliefs and attitudes that we, as know-it-all academics, are convinced are wrong-headed. Whether the attitudes concern life after death, gay rights, a perceived conspiracy to take over New Jersey, or whatever, we can argue until blue-faced without budging our State Representative or our Uncle Walter an inch.

While it can’t explain everything, psychology’s “appraisal theory” suggests why people remain opposed to transit or active transportation projects even after learning about those projects’ benefits. Under appraisal theory, people’s perception of the world around them shapes their emotions.

Click here to read the full article: https://mobilitylab.org/2019/03/18/emotions-shape-opinions-what-does-that-mean-for-transit-advocates/