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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).”

Read Ahead

If you don’t agree with me there is something wrong with you: An introduction to naive realism

Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, and everyone going faster than you is a maniac? 

Is it possible that people driving slower than us are actually idiots and that people driving faster than us are maniacs? Absolutely. Is it possible that we are idiots for driving faster or slower than them? Absolutely… although our brains seem to steer us toward the assumption that we are right and other people acting or thinking differently from us are the deviants.

This phenomenon is called "naive realism." As naive realists, we tend to think that we see events, people, and the world as they really are, free from any distortion due to self-interest, dogma, or ideology. We also tend to assume that other fair-minded people will share our views, as long as they have the same information as I do (also known as the "truth") and that they process that information in the objective, open-minded fashion that we did. Lastly, we generate three possible explanations for why other people might not share our views:
  1. They haven't been told the truth.
  2. They are too lazy or stupid to reach correct interpretations and conclusions, or
  3. They are biased by their self-interest, dogma, or ideology.

An important and related phenomenon is the "false consensus effect." Here, we see that people tend to assume that the decisions that they make are the ones most people would make and that these are the morally-right decisions to make. Because these are the "normal" decisions to make, these decisions reveal less about our idiosyncrasies and individual values. When people make different decisions or take different positions, we assume that it is because of their character and their values (or lack thereof).
Naive realism and false consensus effects are barriers to civil political dialogue and they provide a lens through which we can better understand why liberals and conservatives seem incapable of communicating with one another without calling each other names or assuming that the other side is evil (Hitler-like, the Anti-Christ, or subhuman). 

It is difficult to surmount these seemingly basic human tendencies, and we may not even want to overcome all of them. Vigorous debate and intragroup disagreement is healthy for democracy. Thinking that our views are correct and assuming others would share our views likely serve to promote our defense of our ideals and our preferred policies. The problem, though, emerges when disagreement devolves to demonization. Understanding how to prevent this shift is the central goal of my colleagues and friends at, and the most reliable method to minimize demonization seems to reside in promoting relationships between individuals who disagree. In previous generations, where demonization was less rampant, our elected officials spent time with one another outside of work, interacted with each others' families, and knew each other as people, and not just partisan adversaries. Calling someone evil and a liar is much more difficult and unlikely if you know you must face that person's spouse and children later that night over the dinner table.

So, as you are having discussions with people who hold beliefs different from your own and you are trying to enlighten them with "truth," think about whether you could face that person's family over the dinner table after making your argument. If not, you may want to reconsider your argument and think about whether you're being a dogmatic naive realist.

Read Ahead
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