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

Murray-Ryan Budget Deal Illustrates the Importance of Good Personal Relationships

One of the reasons that we feel that politics has gotten more uncivil is that the relationships that used to bind partisans across parties have frayed.  Partisans of the past seemed to know how to compete for their policy priorities while still remaining cordial to each other.  It is no longer enough to question a politician's policies and we now question their motivation and character.  Social psychology research shows that it is much harder to cooperate with others when we do not have positive contact with them.

Of course, research in a lab may not map onto real world situations so it is important to note when real world examples confirm what is suggested in research.  Recently, Patty Murray and Paul Ryan, leaders of their respective parties were able to put together a bi-partisan budget deal that will ostensibly remove the threat of government shutdowns for two full years.  According to this Politico article, some amount of the credit for this deal can be given to the relatively warm personal relationship between Murray and Ryan.

Fresh off the campaign trail last year, Ryan and Murray sat down for breakfast in the Senate dining room last December, talking about their upbringings, their churches (both are Roman Catholic), two families and two states. They found more in common than they thought, Murray said.

“I had no idea what to know about this guy,” Murray said. “He ran for vice president, he was a political figure, he walked in, and we had a really good conversation about it, about his family, my family — about who we are. Honestly, his state was kind of compatible with mine — unless you talk about football.”

Ryan praised Murray on Thursday evening, calling her a “delight” and saying the talks were “very tough, very honest … but we kept our emotions in check and we kept working at it.”


Given the convergence of evidence from both social science research and real world examples, groups and individuals who wish to reduce inter-group conflict would be well served to consider how to increase positive relationships across groups.  

– Ravi Iyer

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Our New Mission has a new mission.

To provide evidence-based support to groups working to promote inter-group civility and mutual understanding. We draw from the behavioral sciences–particularly social psychology–to create effective interventions and measurement tools, which will enable each group to tailor programs that best fit their own needs. We also aim to make research findings widely available to groups and individuals who want to promote civility.

We originally created in 2009 to address the rising ideological polarization and paralysis that was damaging America’s politicals and civic life. For the first three years, our goal was to collect academic research-in psychology and political science-and apply it to the problem of declining civility in Washington.  However, since that time, numerous groups have decided to operate in that civic space and so we decided late last year to reorient CivilPolitics’ mission toward our specific academic expertise.  Rather than bridging political divides directly, we decided that our expertise in social and moral psychology could be best leveraged by applying our skills to helping the many civic groups that are currently working to help foster more mutual understanding and civility among the American people.

Importantly, this understanding of the scientific literature on inter-group relations is not just applicable to political divides.  Most of our published research is on moral psychology, so we will seek to apply our perspectives mainly to conflicts with moral undertones, but such conflicts are not unique to the division between liberals and conservatives and we are hopeful that the work we do will be applicable to a diverse number of groups.  Already, we’ve been contacted by groups working to bring together people around prison reform and across religious divisions.

We offer services to both academic researchers and groups/individuals seeking to reduce intergroup tensions, acting as a bridge between these groups.  For real-world practitioners, we offer the latest academic research that can be used to inform practice, as well as an opportunity to empirically measure the effectiveness of programs.  For researchers, we offer a chance to test your theories in real-world environments, including data we collect from practitioners who want empirical validation of their methods.  In addition, we facilitate research through various other relatively scalable methods, such as through our work at  We feel that we have a unique niche to play in the facilitation of better intergroup relations, using technology to disseminate and facilitate faster development and application of evidence-based methods.

Interested in working with us, either as an academic, practitioner, or funder?  Contact me (ravi at civil politics dt org).

– Ravi Iyer

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