Educating the Public on Evidence-based methods for improving inter-group civility.

The Ten Causes of America’s Political Dysfunction

[This post was crossposted from RighteousMind.com]

Here is my most complete talk on the causes of America’s rising political polarization and dysfunction. It’s more pessimistic than my prior talks. I was invited to speak in November at the NYU Law School, at a session hosted by professor Rick Pildes. Pildes wrote a superb law review article in 2011 on the causes of our dysfunction, from an “institutionalist” perspective, looking at Congress and electoral processes: Why the Center Does Not Hold: The Causes of Hyperpolarized Democracy in America

When I first read it, I thought Pildes’s account of the history was enlightening, but I thought he was too negative about the chances for real reform. But I re-read his paper while preparing for this talk, and realized he was right — and prophetic. He predicted that Obama would soon start bypassing congress and implementing policy by regulatory fiat; he predicted that one or both parties would soon start cutting back on the filibuster, unilaterally.

In this talk I integrate moral psychology with recent American history to explain the TEN reasons why America has been getting more polarized — at the elite level AND at the mass (public) level. My talk runs from minute 2 to minute 46, and then there’s commentary from Pildes, then open discussion.

Here is the list of 10 causes that I showed in the video:

1) Party realignment and purification,  1964-1992

2) Mass sorting of lib vs. con voters into the purified parties, by 1990s

3) Generational changing of the guard, from Greatest Gen to Baby Boomers, 1990s

4) Changes in Congress, 1995—death of friendships

5) Media fractionation and polarization, since 1980s

6) Residential homogeneity, urban v. rural, 1990s

7) Increasing role of money, negative advertising, 2000s

8) End of the cold war, loss of a common enemy, 1989

9) Increasing immigration and racial diversity, 1990s

10) Increasing education, since 1970s (more educated citizens are more partisan and opinionated about politics)

I show how these 10 trends interact with the moral psychology I presented in The Righteous Mind to produce the strong and steady rise in polarization that we’ve seen since the 1990s. Note that most of these trends cannot be reversed. Morality binds and blinds, and for these 10 reasons, morality been binding us ever more tightly in the last 10-20 years. “Affective partisan polarization” — the degree to which we hold negative views of the other team — has been rising steadily, and there is no end in sight.

 

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Forging Bonds and Burning Bridges: Polarization and Incivility in Blog Discussions About Occupy Wall Street

As traditional newspapers decline in popularity, more and more people are turning to the internet to stay informed. Internet users can seek out web versions of established news publications like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, or they can take their pick among thousands of political blogs covering all sides of the political spectrum. Political blogs, in particular, encourage reader interaction and debate, and reflect the democratization of the internet in that anyone who wishes to can create one and garner thousands, if not millions, of followers. A major concern with this transition to internet news sources is that people will tend to seek out those publications that reinforce their own views to the exclusion of all others, thereby creating online echo chambers of political thought, and leading to increased polarization and incivility.

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:

The researchers had several hypotheses about political polarization among political blogs:

First, they predicted that political bloggers would tend to express opinions that align with the particular ideology of the blog they write for, leading to polarized opinions between conservative and liberal blogs. They predicted the same would be true of the blogs’ comment sections.

Next, they predicted that incivility would become more frequent as political extremity increased in either the post or comment sections, and that most of this incivility would be directed towards off-site political opponents.

Researchers were also interested in comparing political blogs with those blogs published by established newspapers. They predicted that the latter, which tend to encourage a higher level of objectivity, would display less political bias both in the posts and comment sections, as well as less incivility than the political blogs.

To test these hypotheses, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement of 2011 was used as a case study. Five popular blogs spanning the political spectrum were chosen for comparison, as well as two newspaper blogs, from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Blog posts about OWS and their comments were coded for the author or commenter’s stance toward the OWS protests, specific groups or persons (including the blog author or another commenter) praised or criticized, and whether any criticism was uncivil.

2. What They Found – Results:

As expected, political bloggers expressed opinions that were in line with the particular political bent of the given blog—authors on the conservative blogs opposed OWS and those on the liberal blogs supported it. Blog comments showed a similar trend, though they were somewhat less polarized. Also as predicted, incivility increased as blog content and comments grew more extreme, and was most frequently directed at off-site opponents.

Newspaper blogs were found to be significantly less biased than political blogs, as were the commenters on these blogs. Newspaper blog authors and commenters also displayed less incivility.

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:

Authors and commenters on 2 liberal blogs—Daily Kos and firedoglake; 2 conservative blogs—Townhall and MichelleMalkin; and one moderate blog, TheModerateVoice. Authors and commenters on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal blogs.

4. Study Name:

Forging Bonds and Burning Bridges: Polarization and Incivility in Blog Discussions about Occupy Wall Street

5. Citation:

Suhay, E., Blackwell A., Roche, C. & L.  Bruggeman.  “Forging Bonds and Burning Bridges:  Political Incivility in Blog Discussions about Occupy Wall Street.” (2014) Unpublished manuscript, American University, Washington, D.C.

6. Link:

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/266260311_Forging_Bonds_and_Burning_Bridges_Polarization_and_Incivility_in_Blog_Discussions_about_Occupy_Wall_Street

7. Intervention Categories:

8. Sample Size:

2,392 blog posts and comments across 7 sources

9. Central Reported Statistic:

Incivility greater on political blog posts than newspaper blog posts (χ2 = 16.76, df = 3, p ≤.001) and on political blog comments (χ2 = 14.18, df = 1, p ≤.001)

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Love thy neighbor: Ingroups, outgroups and collaboration possibilities

Context: Research on intergroup conflict is well supported and grounded in implementing collaboration. However, despite this data, conflict continues to grow and develop. In the present research, Waytz, Young, and Ginges (2014) provide context as to why individuals and their respective group associations may fail to respect peace-promoting findings through an analysis of “motive attribution asymmetry.” Motive attribution symmetry is an assumption-based pattern that involves ingroup vs. outgroup tendencies to respond with either biased ingroup-love or outgroup-hate assumptions.
Waytz et al. (2014) hypothesize that people will “attribute ingroup engagement in conflict to love more than hate…. but [also] attribute outgroup engagement in conflict to hate more than love” (p. 15687) Within five separate studies, Waytz et al. (2014) utilize several distinct intergroup conflicts, violent and non-violent, aiming to understand individuals’ innate sense of ingroup and outgroup motives and subsequent intergroup assumptions.

 Study 2 and Study 3 outline continuing information found in study one: individuals tend to support the motive attribution asymmetry pattern and generally form internal biases that follow outgorup-hate assumptions and ingroup-love assessments.

 

Study 5: Incentivizing Accuracy
1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:
The motive attribution symmetry pattern is not only negative (i.e. hate assumptions) but also inhibiting compromise. Waytz et al. wanted to see what may curb its effect and thus improve likelihood of cooperation.
In this study, 331 American democrat and republican residents participated by completing an online study similar to study 1. Those who answered with a secure political ideology were then asked if they felt their party was motivated by various items. Items ranged from love (empathy for others in your own party) to hate (dislike of opposing party members). Participants were then randomly placed into either an incentive experimental group or a control group. Both were told to guess the motivations of the opposing political party, however those in the incentive group were given the notion of earning 12 extra dollars if they estimated correctly. The questions asked were the same asked prior, but now about the opposing party, be it republican or democrat. Lastly, each condition rated how much the would be willing to negotiated with an opposing party.

 2. What They Found – Results:
Researchers were excited to find that when provided incentive, the experimental group diminished motivational attributions of hate and increased the motivational attribution of love for outrgroups. Thus, the pattern seen through the motive attribution symmetry in the previous four studies is derailed and actually reversed when individuals are presented incentives. Incentive was found to increase optimism in terms of the conflict, and thus could open doors towards future agreements and compromises.
However, despite this exciting discovery, Waytz et al. suggest that these findings were in a context less violent and volatile than those in other intergroup contexts.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.30.01 PM
Green – Attribution of hate to opposing party
Blue – Attribution of love to opposing party

 

 3. Who Was Studied – Sample:
331 American democrats and republicans; 223 male, 106 female, 2 unreported

4. Study Name:
Waytz et al., 2014, Study 5

 5. Citation:
Waytz, A., Young, L. L., & Ginges, J. (2014). Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives        intractable conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(44), 15687-15692.     doi:10.1073/pnas.1414146111

6. Link:
http://www.pnas.org/content/111/44/15687.abstract

7. Intervention categories:
Intergroup Conflict, Ingroup love, Outgroup hate, Attribution, Cognitive bias, Political ideology, Politics, Republican, Democrat, 2014

8. Sample size:
331

9. Central Reported Statistic:
“Most importantly, a significant condition × target × motive interaction [F(1, 329) = 42.05, P = 0.001, η2P = 0.11] (all other effects, P > 0.39)”

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Love thy neighbor: Ingroups, outgroups, and biased attributions (Study 4)

Context: Research on intergroup conflict is well supported and grounded in implementing collaboration. However, despite this data, conflict continues to grow and develop. In the present research, Waytz, Young, and Ginges (2014) provide context as to why individuals and their respective group associations may fail to respect peace-promoting findings through an analysis of “motive attribution asymmetry.” Motive attribution symmetry is an assumption-based pattern that involves ingroup vs. outgroup tendencies to respond with either biased ingroup-love or outgroup-hate assumptions.
Waytz et al. (2014) hypothesize that people will “attribute ingroup engagement in conflict to love more than hate…. but [also] attribute outgroup engagement in conflict to hate more than love” (p. 15687) Within five separate studies, Waytz et al. (2014) utilize several distinct intergroup conflicts, violent and non-violent, aiming to understand individuals’ innate sense of ingroup and outgroup motives and subsequent intergroup assumptions.

 Study 2 (See Figure 1) and Study 3 outline continuing information found in study one: individuals tend to support the motive attribution asymmetry pattern and generally form internal biases that follow outgorup-hate assumptions and ingroup-love assessments.
Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 12.20.02 AM
Blue – Love
Red – Hate

 

 Study 4: Implications of Bias
1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:
Researchers worked towards proving the prediction that the motive attribution pattern actually informs intentions to retract or maintain ones position about an outgroup or conflict member. In other words, using the information found in study 1-3, Waytz et al. wanted to see what implications may arise when individuals follow this mental pattern.
Israeli participants responded to questions regarding Palestinian motivations  (ingroup love vs. out-group hate) as well as questions concerning personal beliefs in terms of retracting or maintaining attitudes about Palestinians.

 2. What They Found – Results:
Again the pattern was found, however, implications of this bias were also discovered to be correlated. Specifically, Waytz et al. found that feeling that Palestinians are motivated by hate for Israelis correlated with limited desire to negotiate, limited belief in a compromise, win-win situation, as well as reduced optimism and preference for peace making deals.

 3. Who Was Studied – Sample:
498 Israeli residents, contacted through and collected data by way of phone interviews; demographic information collected at the same time

 4. Study Name:
Waytz et al., 2014, Study 4

 5. Citation:
Waytz, A., Young, L. L., & Ginges, J. (2014). Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives        intractable conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(44), 15687-15692.     doi:10.1073/pnas.1414146111

 6. Link:
http://www.pnas.org/content/111/44/15687.abstract

7. Intervention categories:
Intergroup Conflict, Ingroup love, Outgroup hate, Attribution, Cognitive bias, Religious identity, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Gaza

 8. Sample size:
498

 9. Central Reported Statistic:
“This measure of bias was correlated with…
reduced willingness to negotiate [r(453) = −0.23, P < 0.0001]
reduced perceptions of a win-win [r(409) = −0.21, P < 0.0001]
reduced optimism [r(463) = −0.10, P = 0.038]
reduced personal willingness to vote for a peace deal [r(471) = −0.15, P = 0.001]
reduced expectation that Palestinians will vote for a peace deal [r(471) = −0.11, P = 0.016]
reduced positive compromise outcome beliefs [r(471) = −0.26, P < 0.0001]
increased essentialist beliefs about Palestinians [r(471) = 0.27, P < 0.0001]”

 

 

 

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Our goal is to educate the public about social science research on improving inter-group relations across moral divides.