A wing nut might believe that George W. Bush is a fascist, that Barack Obama is a socialist, that big banks run the Department of the Treasury or that the U.S. intervened in Libya because of oil.

When wing nuts encounter people with whom they disagree, they immediately impugn their opponents’ motivations. Whatever their religion, they are devout Manicheans, dividing their fellow citizens into the forces of light and the forces of darkness…

For wing nuts and their many fellow travelers, however, there is a serious obstacle, and it goes by the name of “motivated reasoning.” When people have a strong emotional attachment to their initial convictions, they tend to heap ridicule on anything that runs counter to those convictions and to give a lot of weight to anything that supports them.

Motivated reasoning helps to account for two defining characteristics of wing nuts and their fellow travelers: a readiness to attack people’s good faith, rather than their actual arguments, and an eagerness to make the worst, rather than the best, of opposing positions.

If Fernbach and his co-authors are right, this obstacle may not be insuperable. Serious efforts to examine the assumptions behind your own beliefs, and to identify what you don’t know, are likely to produce an increase in humility. Whether or not you change your view, you may well be humbled — and end up being a bit more charitable to those who see things differently.