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

How Deeply Ingrained in our Heads is Partisan Affect?

Polarization of American partisans continues to increase.  Liberals and conservatives alike have obvious contempt for opposing partisans — this is universally demonstrated by implicit, explicit and behavioral indicators.  Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westood of Stanford University and Princeton University, respectively, designed a set of four studies — titled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization” to further investigate political dichotomy in America.

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:

Study 1 assessed implicit partisan affect and anchored it to implicit racial affect. used two different brief versions of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure implicit racial affect and implicit partisan affect.

Participants first completed four rounds of a BIAT created by the researchers to measure their implicit attitudes.  Their “D-scores” were calculated by subtracting their mean response times when pairing a Democratic mascot with “good”.  Positive D-scores (between 0 and 2) indicated greater positive affect for Republicans and inverse responses times indicated greater positive affect for Democrats.

To further validate the tests, the relationship between partisan D-score and a difference in feeling (regarding Democrats and Republicans) thermometer test was examined.

Finally, participants’ scores on the partisan BIAT and the race BIAT were compared.

2. What They Found – Results:

As was expected, they found that partisan D-scores corresponded closely with which party a participant self-identified with.  ”Strong Republicans”, for example, produced the most bias in favor of Republicans.

The thermometer test validation, despite a small amount of divergence, correlated strongly (r=.418) with the D-scores.

Racial affect BIATs showed a substantial black-white implicit bias, but the race effect size was not nearly as strong as the party effect size.  When compared to party BIATs, it was discovered that negative associations of opposing parties are faster which, in this case, means more automatic and/or stronger, than negative associations of African Americans.

This tells us that, since racial identity is, obviously, acquired at or before birth and racial attitudes are deeply ingrained, for partisanship to exceed race, its underlying hostility must be immense.

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:

SSI

*In order to capture racial affect among non-whites, African Americans were oversampled.

4. Study Name:

Iyenger and Westwood et al. 2014, Study 1

5. Citation:

Iyengar, Shanto & Westwood, Sean J. (2014).  Fear and loathing across party lines: New evidence on group polarization. http://pcl.stanford.edu/research/2014/iyengar-ajps-group-polarization.pdf

6. Link:

http://pcl.stanford.edu/research/2014/iyengar-ajps-group-polarization.pdf

7. Intervention Categories:

Observation

8. Sample Size:

2,000

9. Central Reported Statistic:

“The spread between Democrats and Republicans on the partisan D-score was massive… (p<.001).”

10. Effect Size

D(Republican) = .27, D(Democrat) = -.23

 

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The Benefits of Friendship – Behavior Edition

Context:
A main focus of intergroup relational studies relies on the ability to improve cross-group interaction and friendships. Especially prevalent in areas or communities with little to no access to an out-group, prejudice becomes a common theme and usually produces adverse effects on attitudes and opinions towards said out-group members. Christ et. al. hones in on potential contact (cross-group direct contact vs. extended indirect contact) between group members to discover a way to improve intergroup attitudes. Specifically, Christ et al. worked to understand how much of an impact extended contact, or indirect friendships with the out-group, may have on improving intergroup relations. Moreover, Christ and his colleagues study what role direct contact plays as a moderator to improving intergroup relations.

The two Hypotheses tested were:
1. The amount of extended, indirect contact for individuals who lack direct contact experience may be positively correlated to improve out-group attitudes and behavioral intentions.
2. Direct contact or cross-group friendships would promote a change in attitude strength more so than only extended, indirect contact interactions.

(Christ et al. defines contact as personal, cross-group friendships with foreigners. Extended contact is defined as indirect friendships or the knowledge of other in-group members with personal friendships with out-group members)

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:
The second study presented by Christ et al. was focused on mixed vs. segregated religious communities within Northern Ireland. Specifically, the researchers studied the in-group, out-group relations as it pertains to protestant-catholic relations and their direct or indirect contact experiences. The contrast between protestant and catholic communities is based upon Northern Ireland’s society where religious ties and beliefs are incredibly salient. Christ and his colleagues believed this would provide the participants more specific and personal experiences to reflect upon in terms of the living environments of the participants.

Within this study, different from the first, Christ and his colleagues not only studied the effect direct and indirect contact had upon intergroup prejudice and attitude strength, but progressed to apply said experiences to behavioral intent towards the out-group. First, Christ and his colleagues asked members from both communities the amount of direct, cross-group friendships vs. indirect friendships they have. Next, also through self-report measures, the researchers assessed the level of positive behavioral intent in the form of helping or supporting behaviors towards the out-group members. This was done on a 5-point scale where higher points correlated with higher, intended positive behavior. Lastly, the researchers asses the certainty level of attitude towards the out-group, or the strength of prejudice towards the out-group members. This was done on a 4-point certainty scale (1 = extremely uncertain, 4 = extremely certain).

2. What They Found – Results:
As hypothesized, extended contact was far more connected to the intended positive behaviors towards the out-group. The authors even move say that those with very little extended contact, showed the most improvement and beneficial results in terms of intergroup relations when exposed to extended contact compared to those with simply direct contact experience. This was represented within both time periods of data collection (see sample data below). However, the second hypothesis concerning attitude strength was not correlated in the second study for direct connections did not make unique impact on the members of mixed vs. segregated groups as Study 1 discovered.

The take away? – Increasing extended group contact to those with little access to the out-group will not only significantly decrease levels of negative attitude certainty but also increase positive behavioral intentions.

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:
Two groups of individuals (results confirm for both sets):
Time 1: 984 Adults; 493 Catholics: 158 Male, 281 Female; 545 Protestants: 223 Male, 322 Female
Time 2: 404 Adults; 176 from religiously segregated neighborhoods, 228 from religiously mixed neighborhoods

4. Study Name:
Christ et al., 2010, Study 2

5. Citation:
Christ, O., Hewstone, M., Tausch, N., Wagner, U., Voci, A., Hughes, J., & Cairns, E. (2010). Direct contact as a moderator of extended contact effects: Cross-sectional and longitudinal impact on outgroup attitudes, behavioral intentions, and attitude certainty. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(12), 1662-1674.

6. Link:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20966179

7. Intervention categories:
Intergroup relations
Attitude certainty
Behavioral intentions
Intergroup Contact
Attitude-Behavior link

8. Sample size:
1,388

 

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The Benefits of Friendship

Context:
A main focus of intergroup relational studies relies on the ability to improve cross-group interaction and friendships. Especially prevalent in areas or communities with little to no access to an out-group, prejudice becomes a common theme and usually produces adverse effects on attitudes and opinions towards said out-group members. Christ et. al. hones in on potential contact (cross-group direct contact vs. extended indirect contact) between group members to discover a way to improve intergroup attitudes. Specifically, Christ et al. worked to understand how much of an impact extended contact, or indirect friendships with the out-group, may have on improving intergroup relations. Moreover, Christ and his colleagues study what role direct contact plays as a moderator to improving intergroup relations.

The two Hypotheses tested were:
1. The amount of extended, indirect contact for individuals who lack direct contact experience may be positively correlated to improve out-group attitudes.
2. Direct contact or cross-group friendships would promote a change in attitude strength more so than only extended, indirect contact interactions.


1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:
The first study presented by Christ et al. was focused on Western vs. Eastern German residential areas and their members’ reactions to direct vs. extended contact with out-group members, or foreigners. Christ et al. defined direct contact as personal, cross-group friendships with foreigners. Extended contact was defined as indirect friendships or the knowledge of other in-group members with personal friendships with out-group members. The contrast between Eastern and Western Germany is defined by the number of foreigners, or out-group members in each population: in 2005, 2.4% vs. 10.1% respectively. By cross referencing statements of contact experience (direct or indirect) and participants’ self-reported level of indirect prejudice towards the out-group foreigners, the level to which indirect or direct contact would improve intergroup attitudes towards each respective group was illustrated

First, Christ and his colleagues asked members from both East and West Germany the amount of direct, cross-group friendships vs. indirect friendships they have. Next, through self-report measures, the researchers assessed the level of prejudice felt between the two residential areas towards foreigners on a 1-4 certainty scale (1 = extremely uncertain, 4 = extremely certain). These individuals were responding to statements such as “Foreigners are a burden for our social security system” with said certainty self-report levels.


2. What They Found – Results:
Sure enough, through a multi-level analysis, both hypothesis were supported. It was found that extended contact with an out-group member or members was strongly correlated to the level of prejudice felt. More specifically, Eastern Germans with lower extended contact rated higher levels of prejudice with the our group than Eastern Germans who had higher amounts of extended contact. Western Germans, with more extended contact overall, reported a smaller slope of prejudice between higher and lower level extended-contact individuals.  Furthermore, the higher levels of direct contact reported, the higher the levels of positive attitude certainty were found. Moreover, direct contact was not only proven to be associated with positive attitude valence, but also stronger attitudes. In contrast, extended contact was only found to be related to positive attitude valence, not any form or change in strength of said attitude.

The take away? – Increasing Extended group contact will decrease levels of attitude certainty when it comes to negative, prejudice associations with the out-group. However, to truly improve interpersonal relations between the groups, direct contact friendships will aid in decreasing prejudice thoughts and increase positive attitude strength.

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:
General population from Germany; Ages 16 + (Mean age of 47)
Total of 1,024 participants: 464 Men, 560 Women
East vs. West Germany: 395 Eastern Germans, 629 Western Germans

4. Study Name:
Christ et al., 2010, Study 1

5. Citation:
Christ, O., Hewstone, M., Tausch, N., Wagner, U., Voci, A., Hughes, J., & Cairns, E. (2010). Direct contact as a moderator of extended contact effects: Cross-sectional and longitudinal impact on outgroup attitudes, behavioral intentions, and attitude certainty. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(12), 1662-1674.

6. Link:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20966179

7. Intervention categories:
Intergroup relations
Attitude certainty
Behavioral intentions
Intergroup contact

8. Sample size:
1,024

 

 

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Putting Interventions to the Test: A Comparison of Five Techniques to Reduce Partisan Hostility

The growing hostility between liberals and conservatives in the United States is a known problem to many.  However, what to do about it is much less clear.  Various groups, such as the Asteroids Club and the Village Square, have developed their own techniques for promoting civility between the opposing parties.    What my collaborators Matt Motyl, Brian Nosek, Jon Haidt, and I wanted to know was: which strategy is the most effective at reducing partisan hostility?  The following describes the result of our attempt to throw the proverbial “kitchen sink” at this problem, testing the effectiveness of several techniques in one study.  The five interventions we tested come from a collection of active civility groups, past social psychological research, and our own intuitions.

Liberals and conservatives completed our study online, being exposed to one (or none) of our five interventions before completing measures of political attitudes and hostility.  The interventions consisted of:

Self Affirmation- Past social psychological work has demonstrated that being reassured of one’s valued traits leads to less defensive and biased processing of opposing viewpoints. Participants in this condition spent a few minutes writing about a valued personal characteristic and a time that they embodied that trait.

Learning Political Membership Last- People readily form impressions of others, and can be motivated to maintain their opinions in order to remain consistent in their evaluations.  This intervention attempted to leverage this motivation by having participants read about a very positive group of individuals, only to later learn that they had volunteered for the opposing political party.

Observing Civility- People often learn by observing the behaviors of others.  For this intervention, participants watched a video describing the relationship between Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Tip O’Neill.  The video described the two as having a very friendly and respectful relationship, even when the two did not see eye to eye.

Superordinate Threat- Having a common threat can bring groups together.  To create this common threat, we had participants read an article describing the threat of cyber warfare attacks on the United States.  The article concluded by stating that bipartisan efforts had the potential to eliminate this threat.

Reducing Zero Sum Perceptions- Much of current political gridlock stems from a perception of legislation as a zero sum game (any win for the other side is automatically a loss for my side).  This final intervention sought to weaken this perception by describing the consequences of this mentality and the ways it is inhibiting progress.  The article concluded by stating that shedding this mindset in favor of increased compromise could help both sides achieve their goals.

After the intervention phase, participants completed a measure of partisan hostility, indicated their explicit liking of Republicans and Democrats, and completed an implicit measure of political attitudes (the Implicit Association Test), which measured the participants’ nonconscious attitudes toward the two groups.  The goal of these interventions was to reduce hostility, not necessarily make participants like the other side more.  As such, we were most interested in seeing whether each of the interventions reduced hostility relative to the group that received no intervention (Control).  The results are displayed below:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 10.44.21 AM

Each dot represents the average hostility score for participants in a given condition (with the red bars marking a 95% confidence interval around that value).  Higher hostility scores are indicative of greater hostility.  These results show that each intervention produced the desired effect, that being lower hostility, but the degree to which they were effective varied.  Reducing Zero Sum Perceptions was the most effective intervention at reducing hostility, closely followed by Superordinate Threat (although Reducing Zero Sum Perceptions was the only intervention to approach statistical significance, p = .052).  Of note, none of the interventions reduced implicit or explicit liking for one’s own party relative to the other party.  In fact, most interventions increased partisan preferences relative to the control condition.  This demonstrates that promoting civility need not reduce an individual’s liking for his or her own group.  Rather, hostility can be specifically targeted and reduced without changing these attitudes.

The results of our intervention contest suggest that there are multiple paths to reducing partisan hostility.  However, not all strategies are equally effective.  Interestingly, the intervention that produced the best results (Reducing Zero Sum Perceptions) was the least based on past psychological research.  As such, when trying to reduce the hostility in the current political environment, I advise paying attention to the nuances of the current sources of hostility.  As time goes by, the issues that divide us change.  Our attempts to bridge those gaps should adapt with them.

-Charlie Ebersole

To learn more about the interventions we used, see this document: Civil Politics Contest Study-Materials

To learn more about the study in general, see this project’s page on the Open Science Framework

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