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

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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When is Uncompromising Uncivil?

Longtime Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has become the especial target of a group of conservative activists.  In a rather snide open letter the collective–dominated by local editions of the Tea Party–urge Alexander to retire with his dignity intact ere some true conservative rises to crush him and expose his lack of true conservatism. I paraphrase.

But the striking part of the letter (read it here) is that the brunt of the brief against the conservative Senator amounts to this:  that according the the activists "our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous."

Now though this letter to Lamar seems to represent a case of at least incipient incivility, it does seem that an uncompromising position can be held civilly; in theory at least even with utmost politeness and respect for the opposition.  And the facile linking of civility with a propensity to compromise can be merely the partisanship of the centrist, or moderate; or of an opposing partisan who's being frustrated by an uncompromising stand.

The question lurking then is when does impeccably civil uncompromising become uncivil… just by being uncompromising. Or does it? If it does, do we know it when we see it? And who is the we that prevails in the adjudication? 

I find this all disturbingly problematic…like a flirt with the abyss.


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