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

New Research shows that Feeling Superior is a Bipartisan Issue

A recent article by Kaitlin Toner, Mark Leary, Michael Asher, and Katrina Jongman-Sereno at Duke University examined whether "rigidity" is something that is unique to conservatism or something that all extremists feel.  I put "rigidity" in quotes because the term connotes something negative and actually reflects agreement with statements like ("Anyone who is honestly and truly seeking the truth will end up believing what I believe"), which may reflect rigidity, but also could be said to be measure confidence, certainty, or honest belief that one is right.  Indeed, there is something to be said for avoiding "flip-flopping".

The authors surveyed 527 mechanical turk users and found that while conservatives scored higher on general measures of "dogmatism" (again in quotes because one man's dogmatism is another man's unwavering commitment to principle), both extreme liberals and extreme conservatives were more likely to say that their view was "totally correct – mine is the only correct view" when asked about specific political issues.  Given that most beliefs occur in the specific, rather than in the abstract, it would seem that this is another case of the dark side of moral conviction, whereby extreme views correlate with behaviors that can have negative consequences.

It is for this reason that increasing the influence of moderates is one concrete method for groups to create more cooperation and less conflict.

- Ravi Iyer

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Lie Defectors: The New Truth about Partisans and Facts

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  Of late many of us are wondering whether the Moynihan maxim is still in effect. The bipartisan fact seems to be going the way of the Red-and-blue Lory.

But now a bit of breaking news from Dylan Matthews who reports on new research suggesting there is more agreement on facts than previous studies have indicated.  If fealty to facts pays, literally, then many partisans fess up:

… Republicans were likelier than Democrats to correctly state that U.S. casualties in Iraq fell from 2007 to 2008, and Democrats were likelier than Republicans to correctly state that unemployment and inflation rose under Bush’s presidency.

But when there was money on the line, the size of the gaps shrank by 55 percent. The researchers ran another experiment, in which they increased the odds of winning for those who answered the questions correctly but also offered a smaller reward to those who answered “don’t know” rather than answering falsely. The partisan gaps narrowed by 80 percent.

So are partisans just lying?  Matthews leans that way but whatever the case it’s encouraging to those who have feared a kind of fracturing of the fact-world.  Or worse, to wit, in the post Matthews also relates a prior study in which:

Republicans presented with news articles pointing out that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that such weapons were found than Republicans who didn’t read those articles. The truth, in other words, triggered a partisan backlash.

But we can indulge a collective sigh of relief if it’s just good ol’ honest lying. So back to the new research:

The authors conclude that false answers — like Democrats saying that casualties in Iraq increased from 2007 to 2008 — are just cheap talk, a way to signal a party affiliation rather than a sincere belief.

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