Monday, November 08, 2010

The recent election - gridlock or compromise?

I find it hard to find much of a glimmer of hope for the prospect that some important issues will actually be faced in the next several years, but this piece by Benedict Carey does note some research suggesting conditions that can lead to a softening of strongly held positions. A few clips:
...people tend to exaggerate their differences with opponents to begin with, research suggests, especially in the company of fellow partisans. In small groups organized around a cause, for instance, members are prone to one-up one another; the most extreme tend to rise the most quickly, making the group look more radical than it is.

...recent studies demonstrates how quickly large differences can be put aside, under some circumstances. In one, a team of psychologists had a group of college students who scored very high on measures of patriotism read and critique an essay titled “Beyond the Rhetoric: Understanding the Recent Terrorist Attacks in Context,” which argued that the 9/11 attacks were partly a response to American policy in the Middle East.

The students judged the report harshly — unless, prompted by the researchers, they had first described a memory that they were proud of. This group, flush with the image of having acted with grace or courage, was significantly more open to at least considering the case spelled out in the essay than those who had recounted a memory of having failed to exhibit their most prized personal quality.

Confronting an opposing political view is a threat to identity, but “if you remind people of what they value in some other domain of their life, it lessens the pain,” said the lead author, Geoffrey L. Cohen, a social psychologist at Stanford. “It opens them up to information that they might not otherwise consider.”

The effect of such affirmations seems especially pronounced in people who boast strong convictions. In a follow-up experiment, the research team had supporters of abortion-rights act out a negotiation with an opponent on an abortion bill. Again, participants who were prompted to recall a treasured memory beforehand were more open to seeking areas of agreement and more respectful of their opposite’s position than those not so prompted.

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