The Market for Belief Systems: A Formal Model of Ideological Choice

Thomas Gries, Veronika Müller, John T. Jost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Belief systems play a crucial role when it comes to guiding human information processing, evaluation, judgment, behavior, and social coordination. But why do individuals and groups adopt the specific ideologies they do? And is it possible to use the tools of economics to understand the decisions that are made in the market for ideology? To address these and related questions, we synthesize insights garnered from standard rational choice models, characteristics demand theory, and the distance theory of voting, as well as theory and research on “elective affinities” in psychology. We offer a formal analysis of the role of psychological and consumption needs in shaping the individual’s choice of ideology under circumstances of uncertainty and limited resources and other constraints, including informational costs associated with learning about the potential match values of specific ideologies. After providing a few examples, we mention one non-obvious implication of our model, namely that people can be “wrong” about their own ideological preferences according to the criteria of rational consistency and utility maximization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-83
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Behavioral economics
  • consumption preferences
  • formal modeling
  • political ideology
  • psychological needs
  • voting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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