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

Those who want a fight, like Trump and ISIS, do indeed benefit from each other.

During the recent Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton stated that Donald Trump has become a lead recruiter for ISIS.  I can’t speak to the accuracy of this claim, and much has been written from both sides elsewhere.   However, there should be very little doubt that those who benefit from conflict need the level of perceived competition to be ever greater, in order to justify their combative stance within their own group, implying that the extremes on both sides of any conflict do indeed have common goals.  That is true in social science laboratory experiments, natural experiments that occur in the world, analyses of history, in our everyday experiences and yes, it is true with regard to those who benefit from a perceived “clash of civilizations”, such as Donald Trump and ISIS.  Indeed, it would be shocking if it didn’t work that way for Trump and ISIS, as shocking as it would be if gravity worked in some places and not others, as these forces are fundamental parts of human nature.  We are naturally social animals who are exceedingly good at forming groups and competing with opposing groups.  The more competitive the situation gets, the more animosity arises and the more we gravitate toward the most combative amongst our group.

Need proof?  Here are five forms of evidence that suggest this is true.Scarborough,_North_Yorkshire_-_WWI_poster

1) Social Science – Thousands of studies have used the minimal group paradigm, whereby the mere fact of assigning a person to a group creates animosity and the more competitive the groups are, the more animosity ensues.  The reason the procedure is called “minimal” is that there is no actual reason why any person is put in any group, such that any reason for conflict is simply a result of random group assignment + competition, not any real difference between individuals.  During these manufactured competitions, group members are more likely to follow others who suggest attacking the other group.

2) The Natural Experiment of Sports – How do we know that the minimal group paradigm maps onto real world behavior?  Millions of people engage in animosity toward very similar others due to the arbitrary assignment of where they happen to live and what sports team they then follow.  Thousands of papers have been written to analyze this behavior (I’d recommend Among the Thugs most), but you don’t need academic analyses to know that rivalries lead to violence across sports and countries, as it happens regularly in the news.  Importantly, the only thing that often differentiates these groups is the level of competition between them;  the greater the competition, the more animosity, and the more opportunity for heroes to arise, who lead their side to victory.

3) History – How do dictators get their populace to follow them, despite their often ineffective leadership?  North Korea needs a perpetual sense of threat to justify the terrible conditions it imposes on it’s people.  Hitler, Stalin, Pol-Pot, and Putin, in modern times, maintain(ed) their hold on power not by providing a better life for their people, but by “protecting” them from a very dangerous world.  The more competition that exists with other countries, the better their hold on power, a phenomenon that has noted by political scientists in the US as well.

4) Everyday experience – A lot of social science and history simply confirms what we already know from our everyday experience.  When was the last time that you got into an argument with someone and one party willingly conceded their point of view?  The more heated the debate, the less you listen to others, and the fact that social scientists have found this to be true is almost beside the point.  Creating a more extreme atmosphere is a great way to shut down reasoned debate and compromise.

5) Trump & ISIS – I don’t doubt Trump’s sincere desire to defeat ISIS, but support for his candidacy has clearly increased as more terrible events occur in the world.  Indeed, a prime emphasis of his candidacy is competition with ISIS, China, Mexico, etc, and his proposed toughness in dealing with them.  He demonstrates this toughness by being ever more extreme.  Similarly, while systematic analyses of terrorist attitudes are sparse, groups like ISIS have often arisen in response to perceived invasions of Islamic territory such as in the Middle East or Afghanistan,  and a prime emphasis of ISIS’ propaganda is over-the-top shock videos designed to display toughness, in the face of these threats.

In the end, human beings will rally to a “tough leader” when under threat.  Intentional or not, those who demonstrate their toughness through their extreme rhetoric, often benefit from this threat, leading those on either extreme side of any moral division to be strangely aligned in terms of their incentives.  Trump & ISIS’ relationship is similar to the relationship between Democrats and Republicans who fundraise off of the extreme words of the opposing side or the Ohio State and Michigan athletic departments, who each earn millions from their rivalry or Hamas and the current conservative Israeli government, who both gain in popularity based on each others’ more extreme actions, or east coast and west coast rappers, whose rivalry led to millions in album sales.  Human beings love competition and often, those who promote the competition amongst us reap the rewards.  Unfortunately, some of these competitions have enduring consequences and there are times when those of us who would prefer to build bridges rather than walls need to get psychology working for us, rather than against us.

- Ravi Iyer

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Diversity in political opinion leads to better policy

Both in my academic and industry work, I work a lot on crowdsourcing answers, as multiple sources of information are inevitably going to lead to better conclusions.   The key to good crowdsourcing is not the volume of people, but the diversity of people in any dataset (e.g. this paper).  David Blankenhorn, of the Better Angels initiative, applies this same logic to improving policy through diversity of political thought.

From the article:

“Diversity,” like so much else these days, divides us….diversity, properly understood, might be our last best hope of repairing our broken politics and depolarizing our society. Consider three factual propositions.

Diverse groups make better decisions. If you’re an investor seeking an accurate prediction of next year’s inflation rate, should you go with your own best analysis, depend on a famous expert whose judgment you trust, or put your faith in the mathematical average of 50 predictions made by experts holding widely divergent views on inflation? Research suggests that the third strategy is consistently more likely to produce the most accurate prediction. Diverse groups are smart.

Like-minded groups make us individually dumber. I like to imagine that my political opinions come from evaluating evidence and sorting through facts, but I’ve learned from the research that it just ain’t so. Like you and nearly everyone, my political stances are largely shaped by ordinary human needs to belong, to maintain cherished relationships, and to protect or try to enhance my status within the groups that matter to me.

….

Groups shaping our political views have become less diverse. Both of our main political parties increasingly consist of like-minded people. It’s hard today to find a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat. Our residential communities are also increasingly politically like-minded. In 1976, about one in four Americans lived in a county in which presidential candidate won by a landslide. Today that number is one in two. Increasingly, the news sources we use today tell us only what we already think. Finally, friendship circles today are increasingly politically defined, with liberals befriending other liberals and conservatives rarely inviting a liberal to lunch. (Where would they go — Cracker Barrel or Au Bon Pain?) So many of us today are nearly fully enveloped in political similarity. The main results are dumbed-down thinking and increasing polarization.

Creating a more civil political environment is not just beneficial for our relationships in our communities…it also leads to better, smarter policy.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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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.