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

How Deeply Ingrained in our Heads is Partisan Affect?

Polarization of American partisans continues to increase.  Liberals and conservatives alike have obvious contempt for opposing partisans — this is universally demonstrated by implicit, explicit and behavioral indicators.  Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westood of Stanford University and Princeton University, respectively, designed a set of four studies — titled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization” to further investigate political dichotomy in America.

1. What They Did – Intervention Summary:

Study 1 assessed implicit partisan affect and anchored it to implicit racial affect. used two different brief versions of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure implicit racial affect and implicit partisan affect.

Participants first completed four rounds of a BIAT created by the researchers to measure their implicit attitudes.  Their “D-scores” were calculated by subtracting their mean response times when pairing a Democratic mascot with “good”.  Positive D-scores (between 0 and 2) indicated greater positive affect for Republicans and inverse responses times indicated greater positive affect for Democrats.

To further validate the tests, the relationship between partisan D-score and a difference in feeling (regarding Democrats and Republicans) thermometer test was examined.

Finally, participants’ scores on the partisan BIAT and the race BIAT were compared.

2. What They Found – Results:

As was expected, they found that partisan D-scores corresponded closely with which party a participant self-identified with.  “Strong Republicans”, for example, produced the most bias in favor of Republicans.

The thermometer test validation, despite a small amount of divergence, correlated strongly (r=.418) with the D-scores.

Racial affect BIATs showed a substantial black-white implicit bias, but the race effect size was not nearly as strong as the party effect size.  When compared to party BIATs, it was discovered that negative associations of opposing parties are faster which, in this case, means more automatic and/or stronger, than negative associations of African Americans.

This tells us that, since racial identity is, obviously, acquired at or before birth and racial attitudes are deeply ingrained, for partisanship to exceed race, its underlying hostility must be immense.

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3. Who Was Studied – Sample:


*In order to capture racial affect among non-whites, African Americans were oversampled.

4. Study Name:

Iyenger and Westwood et al. 2014, Study 1

5. Citation:

Iyengar, Shanto & Westwood, Sean J. (2014).  Fear and loathing across party lines: New evidence on group polarization.

6. Link:

7. Intervention Categories:


8. Sample Size:


9. Central Reported Statistic:

“The spread between Democrats and Republicans on the partisan D-score was massive… (p<.001).”

10. Effect Size

D(Republican) = .27, D(Democrat) = -.23


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Reducing Self-Interest Bias in Conflicts by Mitigating Disparities in Liking

One of the most difficult things for all of us to overcome in any competitive situation is self-serving bias.  The below video explains it in an intuitive and entertaining way.  How many sports fans can be counted on to objectively view the decisions of referees?  Not many.  And similarly, how can we expect members of a group to objectively judge the fairness of actions of other group members?  Even those of us who take great pains to see the viewpoints of the other side are likely influenced by unconscious bias in service of our self-interest.

These same processes explain how both Jews and Palestinians have divergent historical narratives that they are completely convinced is the only view, how fiscal liberals and conservatives have completely opposite ideas about economic history, and how sports fans can be so convinced that they are routinely robbed by referees.  Opposing groups are often going to see facts in a way that conforms to their moral worldview (see research on and examples of moral coherence).

Self-serving bias may be ubiquitous, but there are still situations and circumstances that may reduce or exacerbate these tendencies.  Recently, at the 2014 conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, I met Konrad Bocian who is investigating liking as a potential boundary condition.  Specifically (as is described in the below video), self-serving bias may occur only when it is done by people one has greater liking for.  In three studies, Bocian and Wojciszke measured moral judgments of rule-breaking behavior that benefited the judging party, and observed that feelings toward the perpetrator of the behavior were central to these moral judgments, even when the behaviors benefited the judging party.

This work relates to the Asteroids Club paradigm that is being pioneered by The Village Square, in that a central aspect of such meetings is to reduce the disparity in liking between members of one’s own group and members of opposing groups.  This hypothesis should be tested directly, but perhaps in moderating our feelings toward both our own groups and competing groups, we can mitigate some of the self-interest bias that exists in all conflicts and learn to disagree more productively.

– Ravi Iyer

ps.  Read more at Konrad’s website or read the published paper here.

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