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Thursday, May 4, 2017

THE POLARIZATION EXPRESS

(Psychology Today) Scientists dig deeper into what divides us. Liberals and Conservatives, experts tell us, diverge on the values they hold most dear. They handle facts in a manner that shores up their beliefs the confirmation bias. And we've all heard about the "bubbles" that shield political tribes from unwelcome ideas. As the bombast of American politics spills over, new research looks at potential forces of polarization that you may not have considered:

Knee-jerk resistance

People who differ fiercely on politics might hesitate to agree on nearly anything even vacuum cleaners. In experiments, participants indicated their preference for different kinds of cars and appliances. Then they were told that a majority of other respondents in some cases, Trump or Clinton supporters, either agreed or disagreed with them. Those who found out that they agreed with a group they morally opposed reported stronger feelings of mental resistance when asked to recap their answers than those who had disagreed. Faced with the opinions of an ideological foe, "by the time you start to apply your rational thoughts process, you're probably already at a place of rejecting them," says psychologist Randy Stein of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Sheeple (sheep plus people) stereotypes

Are the rally goers in the local park more like paragons of citizenship or gullible lemmings? Each person's take is likely skewed by his or her own leanings. In online studies by a team at the University of Queenland, Democrats and Republicans rated followers of the other side's leaders as more conformist and incompetent than like-minded followers, who were deemed more industrious and enthusiastic. And in a fictional scenario, both groups opted to use less persuasion and more coercion to influence opposing followers. "The actual reasons people vote are multifaceted and complex," says Lehigh University psychologist Dominic Packer. "But once we cast a vote, we all start to look the same, especially to outsiders."

A craving for meaning

Shocks to our sense of how things work can move us to embrace ideas that offer clear meaning, research suggests. A report in Psychological Science showed that Americans who had experienced illness, accidents, or other misfortunes were more likely to tick toward the extremes on questions about war and counterterrorism. When meaning is threatened, people "double down on the beliefs they have about the world and become more exaggerated versions of themselves," says co-author Steven Heine, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia. But it doesn't necessarily take a tragedy to prompt such a reaction. A recent study found that proneness to boredom, which predicted an increased search for meaning, was also associated with more extreme political orientations.

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