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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How to Make Congress Work: Workout!

Here's a feel good piece from BuzzFeed's Kate Nocera detailing the unlikely pairing of liberal Luis Gutierrez and conservative Paul Ryan–two men that "are about as far apart ideologically as two congressmen can be."  If lightning strikes and the House gets beyond gridlock on immigration reform no doubt this "Congressional odd couple" should be the ones uncorking the Champaign.

Nocera relates that the friendship formed thanks to frequent run-ins at the House gym "where early morning workouts inevitably turn into locker room conversations about policy." And we thought swinging rather than pumping iron was the way to forge links in D.C. 

But then on reflection one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more ideal place. There is an informality about working out that may not obtain on the golf course. Plus the convenience, the proximity, the frequency…

Best case scenario: Working out winds up working like this: 

When Ryan was on the vice presidential campaign trail last year, he returned to the House several times to cast votes, and Gutierrez pulled him aside one morning in the gym…“I said, ‘Well you know you might be vice president, not that I’m going to help you in anyway. But if you win can I get to call you about immigration? Are we still going to collaborate?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely, even more,”” Gutierrez recalled.

All this warm fuzzy frolicking towards bubbly must be qualified.  While both Congressmen are political opponents they actually began from common ground on immigration reform.  And then, voila, both men have common ground as in shared patch of earth: Gutierrez-Chicago, Ryan-Wisconsin. Add to this a shared Catholicism and the unlikely pairing seems likelier and likelier.

But the thing is that for so many of our polarized partisans there exists such wide swaths of commonality.  It just needs facilitating. A golf course here, a gym there. Before you know it you have a functioning government, etc.

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