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

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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Israeli Restaurant Hummus Bar shows a path forward to peace

Sometimes it seems like it is only the extremists seeking to pull people further apart that make news, so it was heartening to see this story of an Isreali restaurant that gives people a 50% discount if they are seated at a table with both Arabs and Jews sitting together.  In keeping with this site’s perspective that situational, intuitive approaches to bringing people together that put relationships and cooperation first, tend to work better than overly rational approaches, we applaud their efforts as we have seen how similar programs by The Village Square and Living Room Conversations can shift the wind in a community.  Even as people maintain their political views, they can do so without demonizing people with the opposing view.  And enjoy a nice meal at a fair price too, in this case.


From the Times of Israel:

Hummus Bar took an innovative approach to getting Israelis and Arabs together in the midst of over two weeks of near daily terrorist attacks.

“Scared of Arabs? Scared of Jews?” the joint advertised in a Hebrew-languageFacebook post. “By us we don’t have Arabs! But we also don’t have Jews… By us we’ve got human beings!

Manager Kobi Tzafrir said that by the post-lunch rush on Monday, Hummus Bar had already served several tables with both Arabs and Jews, a trend that’s been consistent since the ad went up on Facebook on October 13. He said the idea’s been well received by Arabs and Jews alike, as well as people online from as far afield as Japan who’d heard of the initiative.

Tzafrir said the move was a response to growing intolerance by both Arab and Israeli extremists and was a small step to bring people together.

Please do support this restaurant and people who make similar efforts in your communities.

– Ravi Iyer


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Psychological Patterns evident in Reactions to the Iran Nuclear Deal

Whether the deal that has been reached will or will not stop Iran from getting nuclear bomb is a question better left for experts in atomic energy and weapons, but there are some psychological processes occurring in reactions to the deal that are quite common and bear pointing out.

– The people who are most concerned about their side getting a bad deal in both Iran and the US are the ones who both are simultaneously are convinced that their side got the worst of it.  Just as those on the extremes of the Democratic and Republican party are most quick to criticize any compromise, so too are those who are most partisan in the Iran-US divide most likely to disagree with the compromise, even as they disagree in opposite directions, each saying that the deal is tilted toward the benefit of the other side.  This converges with work in psychology on how extreme beliefs often lead people to be more critical of mixed evidence.  The Iran deal is a long and complex document and each side can find what it needs to in order to prove it’s case.

– It is psychologically more healthy to believe that one has control than to believe that one does not.  So naturally Obama believes that this deal will control Iran’s nuclear ambitions, even as no verification scheme is perfect.  And critics of the deal insist they could indeed get a better deal, even as those efforts would be dependent on other countries like Russia and China to keep or increase sanctions.  Clearly, there is a lot more uncertainty as to whether this deal will work or whether a better deal was possible.

In the end, the bias of our organization will almost always be toward compromise over conflict.  That being said, given what we know about human psychology, we’ll be looking for the analyses of non-partisan experts who talk in probabilistic terms over the certain language of the most partisan analysts to truly evaluate this deal.

– Ravi Iyer


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Superordinate Goals unite Koch Industries and the Center for American Progress

The best evidence-based recommendations for improving inter-group relations arise when academic research and real-world case studies echo each other.  There has been ample evidence of how shared (superordinate) goals can reduce inter-group tensions in the psychology literature, and this research has spawned events and programs designed to put this research into practice.  We can have even more confidence in this recommendation when we see shared goals uniting people across moral divisions, without any influence from the research community.  Recently, the New York Times wrote about one such case, where the conservative Koch Industries and the liberal Center for American Progress are working together toward a common goal: reforming the nation’s criminal justice system.

From the article:

Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based liberal issues group, are coming together to back a new organization called the Coalition for Public Safety. The coalition plans a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives. Other groups from both the left and right — theAmerican Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks — are also part of the coalition, reflecting its unusually bipartisan approach.

Organizers of the advocacy campaign, which is to be announced on Thursday, consider it to be the largest national effort focused on the strained prison and justice system. They also view the coalition as a way to show lawmakers in gridlocked Washington that factions with widely divergent views can find ways to work together and arrive at consensus policy solutions.

Officials at the Center for American Progress said that they did not make the decision to join the partnership lightly given the organization’s clashes and deep differences with both Koch Industries and many of the conservative groups.

“We have in the past and will in the future have criticism of the policy agenda of the Koch brother companies, but where we can find common ground on issues, we will go forward,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the center. “I think it speaks to the importance of the issue.”

In the face of important issues, people who were previously divided are indeed capable of putting aside previous differences.  For example, political scientists have clearly documented how war brings out nation together in support of our president, across party lines.  These shared goals are actually more common than one might think.  We all have an interest in reducing poverty, increasing employment, improving education, and improving public safety.  It is often simply a matter of focusing more on the policies that can help us achieve our shared goals versus the elections where only one side can win.

– Ravi Iyer

ps. If you’re interested in having a conversation about the issue of criminal justice reform across party lines, I’d encourage you to check out the work of Living Room Conversations, whose work we have previously featured here.


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