Belief polarization is not always irrational.
Belief polarization occurs when 2 people with opposing prior beliefs both strengthen their beliefs after observing the same data. Many authors have cited belief polarization as evidence of irrational behavior. We show, however, that some instances of polarization are consistent with a normative account of belief revision. Our analysis uses Bayesian networks to characterize different kinds of relationships between hypotheses and data, and distinguishes between cases in which normative reasoners with opposing beliefs should both strengthen their beliefs, cases in which both should weaken their beliefs, and cases in which one should strengthen and the other should weaken his or her belief. We apply our analysis to several previous studies of belief polarization and present a new experiment that suggests that people tend to update their beliefs in the directions predicted by our normative account.