How to make society less polarized?

How to make society less polarized?
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By Jenny Enos

Ironically, in our increasingly socially and politically polarized society, most Americans may agree that our society is indeed polarized. Journalists, scholars, and the general public have noted the huge and growing divisions that divide the country into two camps.

Whether it’s about politics, public health measures, or what children should be taught in schools, the vast majority of Americans feel they don’t have the same values ​​as the “other side”. Recently published article Atlantic Ocean even writes of ‘red America’ and ‘blue America’ as two different countries; individual nations that “cannot speak the same language or recognize the same truth.”

Most studies of polarization reflect this pessimistic view of U.S. public opinion. A recent study shows that between 1972 and 2016, polarization has grown greatly: people’s approaches to various problems have become more consolidated and orderly organized around the ideological core, and less intersected. -cutting different beliefs than before.

For example, people who are in favor of both a weapon and a choice – who could agree with both sides of the corridor on different social issues – are much less likely than before. Similarly, although there were no noticeable differences in people’s trust in scientists in the 1980s, liberals now report significantly more trust than conservatives. There is a growing concern that segregated media consumption habits contribute to polarization by allowing bias to be affirmed or people’s existing beliefs to be affirmed. However, the research team found that the impact of opposing approaches online also makes people stronger in their beliefs, not less.

If we become more polarized when confronted with information we already agree to, and confrontation with information we disagree with has the same effect, but what can we do to improve this situation? According to research, attitudes can be surprisingly difficult to change, so researchers are looking for other ways to promote positive social change without necessarily changing people’s attitudes.

For example, research has shown that our perceptions of how people around us behave can effectively guide our own behavior – even if our attitudes do not change. Researchers call this “normative influence” because it is our perception of the group norms (that is, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to those around us) that influence our behavior. For example, you may not be able to force someone to “love” recycling (ie change their attitude to change behavior), but you may be able to persuade them to start recycling if they think it is the norm in their community.

Finally, this approach is based on the idea that individuals have a strong desire to join their group and do what is acceptable, and are also afraid to retaliate if their behavior does not meet group norms. The question arises as to whether such an approach to behavioral change would be effective in our current polarized climate, where a response from the opposite group is always expected and people are less and less inclined to criticize someone in their camp.

However, some recent research suggests that there may be a promising way to implement social change. In the article “Review, reclassification and refrigerators”, published in Sociological Forumauthors Terence McDonnell, Dustin Stoltz, and Marshall Taylor argue that a possible source of behavior change lies in the way things are classified.

To collect data for their study, they used a survey experiment in which respondents were shown photos of the contents of different refrigerators and they had to assign these refrigerators as Trump or Biden voters. After the respondents completed the classification phase, some were told that their classifications were incorrect – what the researchers call a “final feedback”.

They found that after receiving such feedback, respondents were more likely to reclassify refrigerators, thus changing their initial assessment. On the other hand, receiving “normative feedback” on how most other respondents classified the images had no effect on respondents ’willingness to review the original classification. The authors conclude that normative language can encourage people to “embrace[e] mixed minority opinion ”rather than change someone’s opinion on the matter, and providing final (or factual) answers may be more effective.

Applying these findings to the current polarizing debate, we see that popular media headlines like “Most Americans don’t want caviar to be flipped over” or “The poll is clear: Americans want arms control” may not be as compelling as we might think. In fact, they can provoke a polarizing response – especially among those who believe that a minority has a right to be heard.

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