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

Mark Gerzon of the Bridge Alliance on finding a 3rd political narrative

CivilPolitics’ mission is to educate the public on evidence-based methods for improving inter-group dialogue, with evidence defined broadly to include academic studiesempirical studies of community interventions, and also the practical wisdom learned by organizations that are bringing people together in the community.  As part of this last area of evidence, we are asking our partners in the community to answer a set of semi-standardized questions designed to help us learn the common themes that run through successful community work.  If you would like to have your organizations’ work profiled, please do contact us and/or fill out this form.  This is the second post in this series,  where Mark Gerzon, Director of The Bridge Alliance, shares lessons from his 25 years bringing people together.

What is the organization/group that you represent? What is it’s history in terms of getting involved with improving community relationships?

The Bridge Alliance is just founding, but I have been active in the field for a quarter of a century. We’ve incubated numerous projects like America Speaks and the US Consensus Council. One of the things the past 25 years has thought me is the limitations of any single project, approach, book, tool, practitioner, or website.  After 25 years, I felt a yearning to help the field mature and become integrated into a coherent movement or soul because I want to have an impact on the American people and my frustration is that the political system has not benefited from this work.  If anything, the political process has deteriorated while this field has been growing.  I want to close this gap so that the system can receive the benefits of the work being done, through the Bridge Alliance.

What specific programs/events/curriculum do you run? Briefly describe what it is you do.

There are many specific strategies that one can read about on our website, but one specific goal is that by the end of 2016, we want a significant percentage of the American people to be familiar with a third political narrative. The first narrative might be that conservatives are better and have the answers.  The second narrative might be that liberals are better and have the answers.  The third narrative is that we have to work together across the political divide to meet the challenges facing our country. Americans working together is this third narrative. 100% of people may not become aware of this as not even 100% follow politics in any form, but if a significant number are at least aware that there is a third narrative, they will no longer be living in a black and white world, but rather living in a technicolor political world.

An example of a specific project we have done that can facilitate this awareness is the set of Youtube presentations we have made available under the Center for Transpartisan Leadership.   The idea was to provide short youtube presentations as an online faculty so that American citizens can meet all the people in this field. The presentations include personal testimonials about what led individuals to be interested in this field as well as practical lessons on how people have created change in their communities.  We have about 20 of these videos going up by the summer, with 12 online now, and the eventual goal is to have 40 or 50 up.

What has worked well in your programs/events? If someone else wanted to replicate your programs, what specific advice would you give them as far as things to do to replicate your successes?

My best answer to that question is detailed in my book, Leading Through Conflict, which reflects the panoramic view I have had within this field, through methods like appreciative inquiry, generative dialogue, non-violent communication, and more.  The table of contents list 8 tools that I have found helpful across techniques (Integral Vision, Systems Thinking, Presence, Inquiry, Conscious Conversation, Dialogue, Bridging, and Innovation).  That being said, I’d like to expand on one recommendation that readers of this post may find helpful that relates to our current efforts.  It had been written about as Systems Thinking or Systemic Change previously.

Specifically, the success of any program is likely to depend a great deal on what happens to get the right people into the room before the meeting even starts.  Too often, people will gather like minded parts of a system into a room and pretend it is the entire system.  They may rationalize this by saying that the other side wouldn’t come, because they are so unreasonable, but that is a very self-serving way of framing things.  Awhile back, I led a retreat where we gathered Al Gore and his team with the people responsible for advertisements against his movie, an Inconvenient Truth.  In order to get everyone in the room, we had to focus on both climate change and energy security.  Similarly, in order to get both liberals and conservatives in the same room, the Bridge Alliance is focusing on both money in campaigns and free speech.  [ Editors note: this is very similar to academic work on finding shared goals and the Asteroid's Club model ]

Where can others learn more about what you do?



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Naive Realism as a Barrier in Conflict Resolution

Naive realism, in this context, is defined as: “the conviction that one’s own views are objective and unbiased, whereas the other’s views are biased by ideology, self-interest and irrationality.  Meytal Nasie and his co-authors performed three studies in the setting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to examine the effects of naive realism on conflict resolution — or lack thereof.  They hypothesized that raising awareness of the bias of naive realism and its prevalence in all people would provide those in conflict with a path to overcome the socio-psychological barrier posed by naive realism and would lead to more openness to the other side.

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:

Study 1: This study was performed on Jewish Israelis to determine the effect of awareness of the psychological bias of naive realism.  Participants were assigned to read either a text detailing the psychological bias of naive realism or a control text and then to fill out a survey.  The manipulation text first defined naive realism, then emphasized its negative consequences on human life and its universality.  Participants were first tested for understanding of the text and for political orientation as a moderating variable.  They then responded to three items about historical conflicts, ranking their openness to the views of Palestinians.

Study 2: This study followed the same parameters and procedure as Study 1, but was performed on Palestinian Israeli students.

Study 3: This study used slightly different parameters to further examine the results of studies 1 and 2.  Study 3 sought to examine whether a participant’s baseline openness to their adversaries would moderate the effects of naive realism manipulation.  Participants in this study were contacted twice (3 days apart) to complete multiple questionnaires, which they believed were entirely separate, about their general political and social attitudes.  The initial questionnaire measured participants’ baseline openness to the narratives of adversaries and how deeply rooted they were in their own views.  The second questionnaire followed a design similar to studies 1 and 2.  The most important modification was one that allowed the experimenters to gain information about how willing the  participants were to receive new information about the views of their adversaries, even if that information conflicted their own baseline beliefs.

2. What They Found – Results:

 Study 1: This study found that openness of the Jewish Israeli students studied to the views of Palestinians was highly correlated to their stated political orientation.  Rightist study participants were much less open to the adversary’s narrative than leftist participants.  The study found no significant direct effect of the naive realism manipulation.  However, it was discovered that ideology significantly moderated the manipulation’s effects on openness.  Rightist participants who were manipulated using the naive realism article demonstrated more openness to the opposing side after reading it.

Study 2: This study found a somewhat significant direct effect of the naive realism manipulation, which means that in the case of Palestinian Israelis studied, generally, those who were manipulated showed greater openness to their adversaries.  Study 2 also found that the manipulation had a greater effect on rightist participants- in this case, those with greater adherence to ethos- than on leftist participants.

Study 3: This study found that participants with high FENCE (Firmly Entrenched Narrative Closure, which is highly correlated with political orientation) and rightist political orientation were almost always less open to the narratives of adversaries than were participants with low FENCE and leftist views.  The study also found that, in general, participants who underwent the naive realism manipulation had somewhat greater openness to the adversary’s narrative.

Combined, these findings show that it is possible to increase the openness of people to the arguments of their adversaries by making them aware of the possible biases of their own beliefs.

3. Who Was Studied – Sample:

Study 1: Jewish Israeli undergraduate/graduate students

Study 2: Palestinian Israeli undergraduate students

Study 3: Jewish Israeli civilians

4. Study Name:

Nasie et. al 2014

5. Citation:

Nasie, M., Bar-Tal, D., Pliskin, R., Nahhas, E., Haperin, E., (2014) Overcoming the Barrier of Narrative Adherence in Conflicts Through Awareness of the Psychological Bias of Naive Realism.  Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 1543-1557.

6. Link:

7. Intervention categories:

contact, perspective

8. Sample size:

Study 1: 61

Study 2: 79

Study 3: 94

9. Central Reported Statistic:

Study 1: “the two-way interaction was significant (b  = −.47, SE =  0.16, t  = −2.95, p  = .004, 95% confidence

interval [CI] = [−0.80, −0.15]).”

Study 2: “the analysis produced a marginally significant main effect for the experimental condition (b  =.28, SE  = 0.15, t  = 1.86, p  = .06)”

Study 3: “the analysis revealed a marginally significant main effect for the experimental condition on levels of openness to the adversary’s narrative, controlling for political orientation (b  = .20, SE  = 0.11, t  = 1.83, p  = .06).”

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Send us Your Academic Papers on Civil Intergroup Relations

Civil Politics exists to help educate the public on evidence based methods to improve inter-group relations, especially those intractable conflicts that have a moral dimension to them, such as the partisanship that paralyzes US politics.  Part of this effort involves compiling all of the existing evidence that may exist in this domain, so that we can more authoritatively bring this evidence to others who are doing the work on the ground.

Evidence can include many things.  It certainly includes empirical research, both in its published and unpublished form.  It includes examples from the news that echo this research, where people talk about what does or does not lead them toward more or less cooperation vs. animosity across groups.  It includes both the empirical study of the effects of programs that focus on improving inter-group dialogue, as well as the lessons that those who run those programs have learned through years of practice.    The basis of psychometrics and crowdsourcing is the aggregation of results across methods, each of which has it’s own sources of error, with the hope that convergent evidence is reached across methods.  It is the same reason that we want to ask multiple people, ideally with diverse tastes, before passing judgment on a new restaurant or movie, and we hope to bring the same thoughtfulness to the evidence that we present on improving intergroup relations.  The links in this paragraph are examples of how we support the collection and dissemination of each of these types of evidence.

We are currently working on projects that aim to be more systematic about evidence in each of these categories and we could use your help.  Specifically, if you know of academic research that provides evidence for the role of specific variables in increasing or decreasing inter-group civility, please do use this form to provide us with details.  Before adding any specific papers, you can use this link to check what has already been added to the database.  Questions and comments welcome (email me at ravi at civilpolitics dt org) and feel free to provide as much information as you have, even just filling in the first part about specific papers, as we can have others fill in the rest of the information.


A group of USC students working on CivilPolitics’ academic database.

Please do feel free to forward this blog post to anyone who does research bearing on this question or who knows of such research.  We are also happy to acknowledge your contribution publicly and/or to provide rewards to students who contribute to this project (e.g. travel support to academic conferences) to both incentivize participation and hopefully encourage their interest in this domain.  Thank you for your interest and consideration.

In summary:

- Ravi Iyer





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“In-Group Love” without “Out-Group Hate”

“In-Group Love” without “Out-Group Hate”

        Two types of economic games were introduced: the Intergroup Prisoner’s Dilemma game (IPD) and the Intergroup Prisoner’s Dilemma-Maximizing Difference game (IPD-MD). In the IPD game participants allocated tokens between a pool for themselves and a between-group pool (pool B). In the IPD-MD game participants allocated tokens among a pool for themselves, pool B and a within-group pool (pool W). As shown in the pay-off matrices below, a token allocated in pool B will benefit everyone in the group and harm the other group while a token allocated in pool W will benefit everyone in the group without harming the other group. The optimal strategy for individual would be keeping all tokens for themselves. In the IPD game, the optimal strategy for the group would be putting all tokens in pool B. However, if the other group do the same, both groups will gain nothing. In the IPD-MD game contributing to pool W makes a group gain without intergroup competition, but there is no guarantee the other group would do the same.

IPD-MD Payoff Matrix

IPD payoff matrix

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:

       Participants were randomly assigned to two conditions. In the IPD-MD condition participants played IPD-MD game for 60 rounds. In the IPD condition participants played IPD game for 30 rounds and then IPD-MD game for another 30 rounds. All decisions were made in private using a computer. Participants played in a group of 3 against another group of 3.  Group composition and group matching were kept constant throughout the study. At the end of the study participants were paid for every points they earned.

 2. What They Found – Results:

       For the IPD-MD condition, as can be seen in the picture below, participants contributed on average 31.54% of their endowment to pool W, as compared with only 5.25% to pool B. The rest of the endowment (63.20%) was kept for private use. For the IPD condition, in the first (IPD) part of the interaction, the rate of contribution to pool B was 26.50%. In the second (IPD-MD) part, despite the competition in the first part, the contribution rate to pool B dropped to 5.72%. The present experiment established that out-group hate does not evolve spontaneously in interaction between randomly composed groups, not even after a period of intergroup conflict.


 3. Who Was Studied – Sample:

Undergraduate Students

 4. Study Name:

Halevy et al., 2012

 5. Citation:

Halevy, N., Weisel, O., & Bornstein, G. (2012). “In‐Group Love” and “Out‐Group Hate” in Repeated Interaction Between Groups. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 25(2), 188-195.

 6. Link:

 7. Intervention categories:

An opportunity to show ingroup love without outgroup hate

 8. Sample size:


 9. Central Reported Statistic:

In the IPD condition, a repeated measure ANOVA with block as a within-subject variable and contribution to pool B as the dependent variable found a highly significant block effect (F(3,33)=25.80, p<.001).

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