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

Two Evidence-Based Recommendations for Civil Disagreement

Navigating the scientific literature can be difficult as there is so much research being produced these days and so much controversy as to what findings are “real”, that it can be hard to know what evidence-based recommendations to follow.  In order to help provide clarity to the journalists, organizations, and others who get information from Civil Politics, we would like to make two main recommendations.  These recommendations are not exhaustive and there are certainly other avenues of research.  And they are broad, such that the way that they are practiced may vary depending on the situation.  But these recommendations are also broad in terms of the evidence that supports them and this same breadth also provides practitioners options as far as how to effectively practice these recommendations.


Our recommendations:

1. Improve inter-personal relationships – There is a rich psychological literature on how positive contact between groups increases the likelihood that greater cooperation and less demonization across groups will occur.  This can occur either between individuals or at the group level, whereby individuals see that people of their group are getting along with others in the other group (known as the extended contact effect).  The psychological research on this phenomenon dates from the civil rights area, and continues to be replicated in labs across the country to this day, such that we can have confidence in it (see more research here).  Evidence for the utility of promoting positive relationships between groups is not only found in the psychological literature, but also in prominent examples of cross-group cooperation (e.g. Reagan and Tip O’Neill or more recently, Patty Murray and Paul Ryan) and in the successful practices of numerous organizations that work in the community such as A2Ethics, Living Room Conversations and The Village Square.  Intuitively, we all know that relationships matter as much as facts, and so organizations seek to build culture, doctors get to know patients, salespeople get to know clients, and diplomats work to build relationships as well.  Yet sometimes in the heat of a morally charged conflict, we may start to see the other side as personally repugnant, and it is exactly at these times when relationship building needs to occur as it is hard to find common ground with someone you find personally reprehensible.  Many inter-group conflicts actually occur between people who are actually quite alike in many ways (e.g. baseball fans, political junkies, bloods and crips, etc.) and the opportunity exists to take advantage of what people have in common to forge better relationships.  And once the intuitions and emotions are pulling us to cooperate, our views of the facts often follow.

2.  Emphasize cooperative goals vs. competitive goals – In most conflicts, the extremists on each side will seek to emphasize the enduring intractable nature of a conflict.  Consider how both militant Islam and those who are openly anti-Muslim seek to characterize the divide in the same way; as a fundamental zero-sum conflict, and the same could be said of how the far-left and far-right seek to characterize American politics as fundamental battles between good and evil.  Yet there are often goals that are shared by both groups that lead to cooperation, at least amongst those who are in the vast middle (e.g. it is only the shared goal of avoiding government default and shutdown that often leads to the passing of legislation).  There is a vast amount of psychological research that relates to how competition for limited resources leads to inter-group conflict (Realistic Conflict Theory), and researchers are constantly showing how variables that relate to this paradigm (e.g. increased threat or decreased scarcity of resources) impact inter-group relations.  As with our first recommendation, the research in this area is bolstered by the experiences that organizations have had in creating cooperative settings.  For example, the Village Square has held several successful events leveraging Jonathan Haidt’s Asteroids Club paradigm where partisans seek to recognize problems that both sides can agree are real issues and Living Room Conversations attempts to create a personal setting where people can work together on goals that everyone can agree upon: safer communities and reduced prison costs.  There are also many examples from the news where cooperation occurs when a larger goal can be identified (e.g. this recent Politico article where George Soros and Bill Koch work together on prison reform).  We all know that competition breeds animosity, even amongst those who would otherwise be friends, as evidenced in every sports rivalry across the country.  Yet just as sports fans unite to sing the national anthem, so too can those who find themselves divided seek to consciously remember the larger groups and goals that can indeed bring them together and emphasize those.

We are periodically asked by journalists, organizations, and site visitors about crossing moral divisions and are hopeful that these two simple recommendations can help cut through what can otherwise be a rather opaque literature on evidence-based methods.  Both of these recommendations are supported by dozens of articles and hundreds of studies, as well as countless hours of work and experience by practitioners.  At some level, these techniques are intuitive and are things we already know…but they are also things that we often forget in the heat of a debate, and we are hopeful that reminding people to consciously apply these techniques can make a difference.

– Ravi Iyer

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CivilPolitics Annual Report for 2014

The below text is from our annual report produced for 2013-14. The report is also available via PDF. If you are interested in contributing to Civil Politics or working with us, please contact us.

To Our Stakeholders


As of the end of 2014, CivilPolitics had been incorporated for roughly 15 months.  In that time, we have made significant progress in terms of both contributing to our collective understanding of moral conflict and defining our organizations’ unique niche within this world, where numerous other organizations already exist that do complimentary work.  In this report, we’ll talk first about what we have done in 2014, including both what has and what has not worked, and then what that has meant as far as defining CP’s niche going forward.  We will then talk about our plans for 2015.

2013-14 in Review

Our organization’s mission is to facilitate the application of evidence-based methods for improving inter-group relationships.  Our methodology for doing this leverages the unique place that we start from, as a group of academics that also have experience with educating the public about research.  The diagram below illustrates how we expect this to occur, with academic research informing those who are attempting to bridge gaps in the real world, but also with information from real world practitioners informing the questions that need more study by academics.

In 2013-14, we have worked with a number of practice partners directly, providing recommendations as to the best practices suggested from our research. Some examples include:

  • The film makers behind Bring It To The Table, which humanizes both sides of the American political divide
  • A2Ethics, which hosts community events designed to illuminate moral issues in non-partisan ways
  • Living Room Conversations, which has been focused on creating events in California where people can civilly discuss issues concerning prison reform
  • The Nathan Cummings Foundation, with whom we hosted an explicitly cross-partisan dialogue
  • The Village Square, which hosts numerous events in the community designed to bring people together to discuss important issues without rancor

For these organizations, we have provided tactical advice on bridging moral divides, based on moral psychology research.  In most of these cases, we have also worked with these organizations to collect data (examples here, here, and here) as to how their work has impacted the people who attend their events.  The results of this data collection has been mixed in that in each case, we have found evidence for the positive effects that these organizations’ events have on attendees, but the difficulties in collecting the data at scale from relatively busy attendees, whether we tried technological or old-school methods, necessarily limited our sample sizes and therefore limits the breadth of conclusions we can make based on this data alone.  Still, we have published several studies based on this work online, with the idea that all evidence has value.

To further take advantage of what academics can learn from real-world practitioners, we have taken what we have learned from these organizations informally, and sought to formalize that process (see example here) so that we can more directly leverage these groups’ experiences.  The hope is that if the results of empirical work with these groups converges with the specific lessons that practitioners have learned intuitively in the everyday course of their work, then we can be even more confident that the methods used by these organizations should indeed be shared with a wider audience.

Ideally, the best evidence-based practices should be supported by both the experience of practitioners and more highly controlled studies done in academic labs.  Both to provide this convergence and to support our work advising organizations and the public, we have spent a lot of time in 2013-14 examining the existing research for the best recommendations that we could make to practitioners.  We also commissioned a study by Professor Jesse Graham at the University of Southern California, where he and his lab reviewed existing research and made their own independent recommendations.  One of the most encouraging signs for CivilPolitics’ path forward is that the results of this independent research were similar to our own findings and also matched what we found in talking with practitioners, and even what the data we collected from practitioners suggested.

Specifically, there are two recommendations that we feel especially confident about: improving personal relationships and emphasizing super-ordinate goals.  Both of these recommendations make intuitive sense to those who are caught up in moral conflicts, yet situations are often setup such that personal relationships across groups are made a secondary concern (e.g. politicians have less time to socialize with each other) and competition is emphasized (e.g. the permanent campaign).  We see a great opportunity in focusing on these two specific recommendations when communicating with both practitioners and the general public.

Early in 2014, we launched a newly designed website and over the course of the year saw a roughly 50% increase in site visitors from approximately ~2000 visitors per month to over 3000/month on average.  Our internet presence is well indexed by search engines, such that we are able to answer many formal and informal requests for information and ideas that can be used by anyone seeking to improve relations in their community.  Based on requests we have received for follow-up information, some number of these site visitors are journalists seeking information to share with others or educators seeking to make an impact in their classrooms, such that the extended impact of the information we provide goes beyond those who explicitly visit our internet presence.  Still, in 2015, we hope to expand our outreach, leveraging the fact that we are more confident in the specific recommendations to offer that have been shown to be evidence-based from numerous perspectives from both academia and the real-world.

Lastly, we continued to publish and support research in this domain at both the applied and basic levels.  Among the published articles we have published in top peer reviewed psychology journals include research showing how moral elevation can reduce prejudice, how cognitive style can illuminate ideological differences, how nature can lead to altruism, how values can shape foreign policy attitudes and how ideology can lead people to geographically separate.  We also commissioned research from graduate students at the University of Virginia to specifically test five separate ideas for improving intergroup relations.  Beyond the work we have directly led or supported, we have continued to maintain our primary research platform,, which continues to reach hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and educate them as to moral psychology, with an eye toward greater understanding of those we disagree with.  It also collects data that has led to dozens of research publications that inform our understanding of our collective morality.  Building upon this success, we have sought to export this same model of education + data collection to the scientific understanding of religion (at in collaboration with the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion at Boston University.

Finance and Administration

In 2013-14, Civil Politics incorporated and successfully applied for non-profit status as a 501c(3) charity under the US tax code, with contributions tax deductible.  We received approximately $70,000 in 2013-14 from The Village Square, Reid Hoffman and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, of which we spent $40,000 during this period, primarily on revamping our website, legal/administrative startup costs, technical costs to support, and contracted research.  As of January 1, 2015, we have approximately $30,000 remaining and expect our budget for 2015 to be lower than 2013-14, given that some of our initial year expenses were one-time expenditures to set up technical and administrative systems.  We expect to be able to maintain our operations going forward with approximately the same level of resources while continuing to improve the ratio of dollars spent per person reached, keeping that well under the cost of a postage stamp, and also continuing to support more published research on evidence-based techniques for improving inter-group relations, whether on our site or in peer-reviewed journals.

Our Niche

In 2015, we would like to build upon what worked in 2013-14 and continue to leverage our unique positioning between academia and the public.  We still plan to offer measurement exercises for partner groups, but will also offer structured interviews that enable partners to share what they have learned systematically.   We will build upon the literature review that we completed in 2014 by finding and/or supporting research that will complement areas that need more research.  We will continue to leverage our platforms at and  to educate hundreds of thousands of people.  Now that we have more focused, well-supported recommendations to offer, we plan to leverage social media and the press more.  In summary, we plan to continue to spread what we already know about evidence-based methods for improving intergroup relations, while also continuing to support new research in areas where we ought to know more.

– Ravi Iyer
Executive Director

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Making Politics Less Personal

Recently, Thomas Edsall wrote an interesting essay in the New York Times covering work done by various academics, including Jonathan Haidt, who is one of the founders of Civil Politics.  In this article, Edsall suggests that:

The work of Iyengar, Talhelm and Haidt adds a new layer to the study of polarization. In seminal work, scholars like Nolan McCarty, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, political scientists at Princeton, Yale and Berkeley, respectively, have stressed the key role of external factors in deepening our political schism, including inequality, the nationalization of politics, immigration and the fast approaching moment when whites will no longer be in the majority.

There are many factors that contribute to polarization and certainly these political factors are part of the equation.  Yet the intuitionist view that we have found evidence for at Civil Politics, suggests that the reasons we see increasing personal polarization is less a result of political or economic factors and more at the level of the personal.  Indeed, such vitriol is not just found in politics, but also in completely artificial settings like sports.  These political factors can all be boiled down to a single personal factor, that also exists in the sports realm: group competition.  Given this, our view would be more in line with what Iyengar suggested to Edsall in the article:

In an email exchange, Iyengar speculated on a number of reasons for the increase in polarization:

Residential neighborhoods are politically homogeneous as are social media networks. I suspect this is one of the principal reasons for the significantly increased rate of same-party marriages. In 1965, a national survey of married couples showed around sixty-five percent agreement among couples. By 2010, the agreement rate was near 90 percent.

The result, according to Iyengar, is that “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

Competition, whether for racial equality or the NFL championship, is going to lead to personal negative feelings and without the balancing factor of other positive personal relations, you get the kind of intense dislike described in the article.  In that way, politics is a sport just like any other.

– Ravi Iyer


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Interventions to Improve Intergroup Relations: What Works, What Shows Promise, and What this Means for Civil Politics


Interventions to Improve Intergroup Relations:

What Works, What Shows Promise, and What this Means for Civil Politics


Jesse Graham

(research summaries by Charlie Ebersole, Ravi Iyer, Julia Loup, Matt Motyl, Laura Ramer, Ariana Shives, Mike Nettis-Benstock, Andrew Pilecki, & Li Zhang)

1. Introduction


At, we are focused on ways to get ideological opponents to stop hating each other so much and start working together, for a more productive democracy. This, it turns out, is really really hard to do. Surveying the scientific literature for interventions that might get us closer to this goal, we found that most (but not necessarily all) of the roadblocks to partisan intergroup cooperation are the same as the roadblocks to all forms of intergroup cooperation – not just Democrats and Republicans, but Palestinians and Israelis, Red Sox fans and Yankees fans, or even irrelevant group divisions created for behavioral experiments in the lab. With this in mind, we have been collecting and summarizing research on interventions designed to improve intergroup relations – regardless of what forms these groups, interventions, or relations take. In this annotated bibliography (linking to both the original papers and the more accessible research summaries posted on, I will summarize what has been shown to robustly work, and what hasn’t been researched as thoroughly but shows promise for improving intergroup relations, and what we see as opportunities for improvement on our collective understanding of how moral divisions can be transcended. In my opinion, the most empirically-supported methods for improving intergroup relations both have their origins in classic psychology: 1. Promoting cross-group interpersonal interactions, and 2. Groups being faced with superordinate goals requiring intergroup cooperation. In addition, reducing moral certainty shows great promise for reducing extremism in ideological partisanship and other intergroup conflicts, as does emphasizing shared humanity and reducing zero-sum perceptions of intergroup contexts. We hope this summary can be of value for academics and non-academics alike (possibly also improving the relations between these two groups who so rarely talk to each other!). This review is a work in progress, and we will be adding to it continually as we summarize more findings and expand our intervention categories in 2015.


1.1. Annotated Bibliography: Review Papers on Intergroup Relations and Intergroup Bias


Brewer, M. B., & Kramer, R. M. (1985). The psychology of intergroup attitudes and behavior. Annual Review of Psychology36, 219-243.


Brown, R., & Hewstone, M. (2005). An integrative theory of intergroup contact. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 255–343.


Hewstone, M., Rubin, M., & Willis, H. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology53, 575-604.


Mackie, D. M., & Smith, E. R. (1998). Intergroup relations: insights from a theoretically integrative approach. Psychological Review105, 499-529.


Motyl, M. (in press). Liberals and conservatives are (geographically) dividing. In P. Valdesolo  & J. Graham (Eds.), Bridging Ideological Divides: Claremont Series in Applied Social Psychology. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.


Tropp, L. R., & Mallett, R. K., Eds. (2011). Moving Beyond Prejudice Reduction: Pathways to Positive Intergroup Relations. New York: APA Books. – academic volume on improving intergroup relations, with chapters by different scholars on topics like expectations and inclusion in cross-group interactions, and several applications to postconflict reconciliation in different parts of the world.



2. What Works: Intervention Recommendations


2.1. Improve Personal Relationships 


The contact hypothesis (also known as Intergroup Contact Theory) is one of the oldest and most widely-discussed ideas in social psychology. The idea is that interpersonal contacts between ingroup and outgroup members are a powerful (and some would argue necessary) means by which to reduce intergroup prejudice. This idea has been supported by decades of research, from quite minimal cross-group communications to experimentally-induced cross-group friendships. Cross-group personal relationships have also been improved by interventions focused on perspective-taking and empathizing with members of the outgroup. Because the very thought of intergroup contact often causes anxiety and stress due to fear of rejection, self-affirmation interventions have been shown to improve and encourage cross-group relationships as well, by minimizing this anticipatory anxiety.


2.1.1. Annotated Bibliography: Using Personal Relationships to Improve Intergroup Relations


Allport, G. W. (1954). The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books. – one of the classic texts of social psychology, this book first articulated the contact hypothesis.


Binning, K., R., Sherman, D. K., Cohen, G. L., & Heitland, K. (2010). Seeing the other side: Reducing political partisanship via self-affirmation in the 2008 presidential election. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 10, 276-292. – shows that partisans who affirmed their self-concept in the days before the 2008 US Presidential election were less partisan in their evaluation of the other party’s candidate’s debate performance, were more positive towards the opposition candidate, and more willing to consider alternative perspectives [taken from Motyl, in press].


Cameron, L., Rutland, A., Brown, R., & Douch, R. (2006).  Changing Children’s Intergroup Attitudes Toward Refugees: Testing Different Models of Extended Contact. Child Development, 77, 1208-1219. – tested the extended contact hypothesis in British 5-to-11-year-olds, with regard to their attitudes toward refugees. Three models – dual identity, common ingroup identity, and decategorization – all led to less hostile outgroup attitudes compared to control, and the effects were mediated by inclusion of the other in self (see our study summary here).


Christ, O., Hewstone, M., Tausch, N., Wagner, U., Voci, A., Hughes, J., & Cairns, E. (2010). Direct contact as a moderator of extended contact effects: Cross-sectional and longitudinal impact on outgroup attitudes, behavioral intentions, and attitude certainty. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1662-1674. – provides evidence that indirect contacts with outgroup members can also help to reduce negative attitudes about the outgroup – but not as effectively as direct personal contacts can (see our study summaries here and here).


Cohen, G. L., Sherman, D. K., Bastardi, A., Hsu, L., McGoey, M., & Ross, L. (2007). Bridging the partisan divide: Self-affirmation reduces ideological closed-mindedness and inflexibility in negotiation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology93, 415-424. – provides evidence that affirmation of one’s own integrity, combined with ideological identity salience, can reduce ideological rigidity (see our study summaries here and here).


Drolet, A. L., & Morris, M. W. (2000). Rapport in conflict resolution: Accounting for how face-to-face contact fosters mutual cooperation in mixed-motive conflicts. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology36(1), 26-50. – proposed that rapport in face-to-face interactions is crucial to increasing cooperation between the two people interacting (in this case, two people about to play a cooperative game, but this could help explain how interpersonal contact across groups improves intergroup relations).


Galinsky, A. D., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2000). Perspective-taking: decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology78(4), 708. – provides experimental evidence that perspective-taking can reduce both ingroup favoritism and stereotyping of outgroup members.


Mallett, R.K., & Wilson, T.D. (2010). Increasing positive intergroup contact. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 382-387. – tested an experimental intervention designed to improve inter-racial friendships. Participants watched video testimonials about others’ positive interracial contacts, improving their expectations and causing them to seek out more cross-race friendships in the following weeks.


Page-Gould, E., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Tropp, L. R. (2008). With a little help from my cross-group friend: Reducing anxiety in intergroup contexts through cross-group friendships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1080-1094. – experimentally induced cross-group friendships between white and Latino students, and showed that this reduced cortisol stress reactivity and increased intergroup interactions among those highest in race-based anxiety and implicit racial prejudice.


Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology90, 751-783. – provides a meta-analytic test of the contact hypothesis, and finds that Allport was right: intergroup contact really does reduce intergroup prejudice.


Poteat, V. P., Mereish, E. H., Liu, M. L., & Nam, J. S. (2011). Can friendships be bipartisan? The effects of political ideology on peer relationships. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14, 819-834. – shows that ideology and partisanship can make personal relationships particularly difficult, but that those with positive interpartisan friendships have more positive attitudes to their ideological opponents.



2.2. Emphasize Superordinate Goals 


In intergroup situations, superordinate goals are those that transcend group boundaries, often requiring cooperation between the groups. For instance, preventing global warming is not just a goal for any one specific nation, but is a superordinate goal requiring cooperation between many nations. Another classic idea and finding in social psychology comes from the “Robber’s Cave” experiment led by Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif in the 1950s. The researchers sought to study the dynamics of intergroup attitudes by dividing boys at summer camp into two competitive teams, the Eagles and the Rattlers. The boys quickly developed negative attitudes and stereotypes about members of the opposing team, and engaged in hostile intergroup actions such as looting each other’s cabins and burning each other’s team flags. But things changed dramatically when the two teams were brought together and given superordinate goals that they had to work together to achieve: these goals reduced intergroup animosity to the point that by the end of the camp the boys elected to ride back together, and did not divide even by teams when they sat on the bus. Since this landmark demonstration study, social psychologists have continued to find that superordinate goals improve intergroup relations, and the lessons from Robber’s Cave are now being applied to partisan gridlock as well.


2.2.1. Annotated Bibliography: Using Superordinate Goals to Improve Intergroup Relations


Haidt, J. (2012). How common threats can make common (political) ground. Presentation at TED. – provides an argument that ideological opponents can put aside their differences and work together if they acknowledge the superordinate threats recognized by the other side (see also Haidt’s Asteroids Club project).


Motyl, M., Hart, J., Pyszczynski, T., Weise, D., Cox, C., Maxfield, M., & Siedel, A. (2011). Subtle priming of shared human experiences eliminates threat-induced negativity toward Arabs, immigrants, and peace-making. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1179-1184.


Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (2003). Black Tuesday: The Psychological Impact of 9/11. American Psychological Association. – shows increased cooperation between liberals and conservatives in the U.S. following the attacks of 9/11/2001.


Pyszczynski, T., Motyl, M., Vail III, K. E., Hirschberger, G., Arndt, J., & Kesebir, P. (2012). Drawing Attention to Global Climate Change Decreases Support for War. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology18, 354-368. – demonstrated that prompting people to consider the potential negative consequences of global warming led to improved intergroup relations in terms of support for using extreme military tactics, support for war, support for peace-making and diplomacy, and support for the use of terrorist attacks. Importantly, this effect was not limited to American college students. Rather, this effect was shown for liberals and conservatives in the United States and replicated in Israel and Palestine on non-student populations during the 2009 bombings, and in Iran among fundamentalist Muslims [from Motyl, in press].


Sherif, M., Harvey, O. J., White, B. J., Hood, W. R., & Sherif, C. W. (1961). Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The Robber’s Cave experiment (Vol. 10). Norman, OK: University Book Exchange. And Sherif, M. (1958). Superordinate goals in the reduction of intergroup conflict. The American Journal of Sociology, 63, 349-356. – describes the classic “Robber’s Cave” study, in which summer camp boys divided into competing groups show reduced intergroup hostility when given superordinate goals requiring their cooperation.



3. What Shows Promise: Future Directions


3.1. Reducing Moral Certainty


Multiple lines of morality research, form moral convictions to moral foundations, have suggested that there are dangers to human morality:  our moral nature may help us to cooperate within groups, but it also makes us more likely to fear and denigrate outgroups. There is suggestive evidence that intergroup relations can be improved by “de-moralizing” situations – that is, getting people to see intergroup situations in less moralized ways. This could be done by priming financial or material self-interest, increasing the influence of moderates, or decreasing the influence of ideological and moral extremists in group contexts. However, most of the findings below don’t directly manipulate moralization, and so the evidence remains more indirect and suggestive for the time being.


3.1.1. Annotated Bibliography: Reducing Moral Certainty to Improve Intergroup Relations


Fernbach, P. M., Rogers, T., Fox, C. R., & Sloman, S. A. (2013). Political extremism is supported by an illusion of understanding. Psychological Science, 24, 939-946. – provides evidence that part of ideological extremism is the false belief that one knows more than one actually does. Further, experimental manipulations requiring participants to provide details and mechanistic explanations reduced partisanship in both attitudes and behavior (see our study summaries here, here, and here).


Graham, J., Iyer, R., Haidt, J., & Motyl, M. S. (2010, January). Around the maypole: Religions foster group-focused morality. Presented to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference, Las Vegas, NV. – presented an experiment manipulating whether participants responded to a conflictual intergroup situation in terms of what is morally right, or in terms of what’s in their pragmatic interest. Those in the morality condition were more likely to support acts of violence and aggression against the outgroup (except the religious, who supported outgroup aggression in both conditions).


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. – provides evidence that teaching about naïve realism (thinking your own view is the truth, while your opponents’ views are ideologically biased) can reduce partisan hostility (see our study summary here).


Pilecki, A. (2014). When morality threatens civility. – summarizes multiple lines of research showing how morality can stand in the way of compromise and increase rigidity and partisanship.


Iyer, R. (2014). Pew research highlights social, political and moral polarization among partisans, but more people are still moderates. – summarizes a recent nationally representative Pew poll that shows an increasing minority in the U.S. are morally and ideologically extreme (and polarized), but points out that most Americans are still moderates.


Skitka, L. J., & Mullen, E. (2002). The dark side of moral conviction. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy2, 35-41. – reviews evidence that moral convictions can cause people to disregard due process and other safeguards of civil society, contributing to both terrorism and violations of civil liberties to stop terrorism.


Waytz, A., Young, 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. – provides evidence that people attribute ingroup-love motivations to their own group, and outgroup-hate motivations to outgroups. This bias was eliminated when participants had monetary incentives to be correct about the other side. It’s possible that this works in part by “unmoralizing” the situation, moving it to the profane value of money (for study summaries see here, here, and here).



3.2. Emphasizing Shared Humanity


Promoting a sense that outgroup members share basic human characteristics and desires may lead to improved intergroup relations, without any negative consequences for the individual. In a series of studies, Motyl, Hart, and colleagues (2011) demonstrated that eliciting a sense shared humanity through depicting basic human activities (like eating dinner with one’s family) or asking people to reflect on positive or negative childhood experiences led to reduced implicit hostility against Arabs, reduced support for war, and increased support for using peaceful diplomatic means in resolving international disputes. Furthermore, these effects were mediated by the sense that members of outgroups had shared experiences and were similar to ingroup members in simple, human ways. These findings are encouraging, although rely on making salient to individuals ways in which outgroup members may be similar to them and this intervention may be particularly short-lived. [from Motyl, in press]


Motyl, M., Hart, J., Pyszczynski, T., Weise, D., Cox, C., Maxfield, M., & Siedel, A. (2011). Subtle priming of shared human experiences eliminates threat-induced negativity toward Arabs, immigrants, and peace-making. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1179-1184.



3.3. Expressing Ingroup Love without Outgroup Hate


In an intergroup cooperative economic game study, allowing the members of 3-person cooperative teams to express ingroup love reduced intergroup conflict. It is not yet clear how these results would generalize outside economic games. See our study summary here.


Halevy, N., Weisel, O., & Bornstein, G. (2012). “In‐Group Love” and “Out‐Group Hate” in Repeated Interaction Between Groups. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 25, 188-195.



3.4. Reducing Zero-Sum Perceptions


In a novel highly-powered study, Ebersole and colleagues pit five different partisanship-reducing interventions against each other, compared to a control group: 1. self-affirmation (see section 2.1 above), 2. superordinate threats (see section 2.2 above), 3. knowing group membership last (so ingroup biases don’t affect first impressions), 4. observing civility in others, and 5. reducing zero-sum perceptions. Using explicit and implicit attitude measures toward Democrats and Republicans as the dependent variables, the team found that all measures reduced partisan hostility, but only one did so approaching a significant difference from the control group. In this condition, participants read a passage about how politics is not a zero-sum game, and how both sides could get more if they worked together. For more on this study, see our study summary here, materials here, and study information on the Open Science Framework here.



4. Conclusion


Most of the research on political partisanship – and on intergroup conflict more generally – details how pervasive and intractable these phenomena can be. (In fact, ideological bias seems to be even stronger than racial bias in the U.S. – see study summaries here and here.) In this annotated bibliography I have tried to highlight what can be done about it – that is, what can be done to reduce partisanship, ideological extremism, ingroup bias, and intergroup strife. In general, the most empirically-supported methods for improving intergroup relations both have their origins in classic psychology: 1. Promoting cross-group interpersonal interactions, and 2. Groups being faced with superordinate goals requiring intergroup cooperation. In addition, reducing moral certainty shows promise for reducing extremism in ideological partisanship and other intergroup conflicts, as does emphasizing shared humanity and reducing zero-sum perceptions of intergroup contexts. In my opinion, interventions designed to reduce moral certainty (and moralization in general) show the most promise for reducing intergroup hostility, and represent the area where future research is most sorely needed. There is clearly a lot more to be done. But the fact that intergroup relations have been empirically demonstrated to be improved by a variety of experimental interventions has implications for the future of civil politics that can be summarized in two words: there’s hope.





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