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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Polarization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Polarization. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2024

How digital media drive affective polarization through partisan sorting

Törnberg, P. (2022).
PNAS of the United States of America,


Politics has in recent decades entered an era of intense polarization. Explanations have implicated digital media, with the so-called echo chamber remaining a dominant causal hypothesis despite growing challenge by empirical evidence. This paper suggests that this mounting evidence provides not only reason to reject the echo chamber hypothesis but also the foundation for an alternative causal mechanism. To propose such a mechanism, the paper draws on the literatures on affective polarization, digital media, and opinion dynamics. From the affective polarization literature, we follow the move from seeing polarization as diverging issue positions to rooted in sorting: an alignment of differences which is effectively dividing the electorate into two increasingly homogeneous megaparties. To explain the rise in sorting, the paper draws on opinion dynamics and digital media research to present a model which essentially turns the echo chamber on its head: it is not isolation from opposing views that drives polarization but precisely the fact that digital media bring us to interact outside our local bubble. When individuals interact locally, the outcome is a stable plural patchwork of cross-cutting conflicts. By encouraging nonlocal interaction, digital media drive an alignment of conflicts along partisan lines, thus effacing the counterbalancing effects of local heterogeneity. The result is polarization, even if individual interaction leads to convergence. The model thus suggests that digital media polarize through partisan sorting, creating a maelstrom in which more and more identities, beliefs, and cultural preferences become drawn into an all-encompassing societal division.


Recent years have seen a rapid rise of affective polarization, characterized by intense negative feelings between partisan groups. This represents a severe societal risk, threatening democratic institutions and constituting a metacrisis, reducing our capacity to respond to pressing societal challenges such as climate change, pandemics, or rising inequality. This paper provides a causal mechanism to explain this rise in polarization, by identifying how digital media may drive a sorting of differences, which has been linked to a breakdown of social cohesion and rising affective polarization. By outlining a potential causal link between digital media and affective polarization, the paper suggests ways of designing digital media so as to reduce their negative consequences.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Moralization and extremism robustly amplify myside sharing

Marie, A, Altay, S., et al.
PNAS Nexus, Volume 2, Issue 4, April 2023.


We explored whether moralization and attitude extremity may amplify a preference to share politically congruent (“myside”) partisan news and what types of targeted interventions may reduce this tendency. Across 12 online experiments (N = 6,989), we examined decisions to share news touching on the divisive issues of gun control, abortion, gender and racial equality, and immigration. Myside sharing was systematically observed and was consistently amplified when participants (i) moralized and (ii) were attitudinally extreme on the issue. The amplification of myside sharing by moralization also frequently occurred above and beyond that of attitude extremity. These effects generalized to both true and fake partisan news. We then examined a number of interventions meant to curb myside sharing by manipulating (i) the audience to which people imagined sharing partisan news (political friends vs. foes), (ii) the anonymity of the account used (anonymous vs. personal), (iii) a message warning against the myside bias, and (iv) a message warning against the reputational costs of sharing “mysided” fake news coupled with an interactive rating task. While some of those manipulations slightly decreased sharing in general and/or the size of myside sharing, the amplification of myside sharing by moral attitudes was consistently robust to these interventions. Our findings regarding the robust exaggeration of selective communication by morality and extremism offer important insights into belief polarization and the spread of partisan and false information online.

General discussion

Across 12 experiments (N = 6,989), we explored US participants’ intentions to share true and fake partisan news on 5 controversial issues—gun control, abortion, racial equality, sex equality, and immigration—in social media contexts. Our experiments consistently show that people have a strong sharing preference for politically congruent news—Democrats even more so than Republicans. They also demonstrate that this “myside” sharing is magnified when respondents see the issue as being of “absolute moral importance”, and when they have an extreme attitude on the issue. Moreover, issue moralization was found to amplify myside sharing above and beyond attitude extremity in the majority of the studies. Expanding prior research on selective communication, our work provides a clear demonstration that citizens’ myside communicational preference is powerfully amplified by their moral and political ideology (18, 19, 39–43).

By examining this phenomenon across multiple experiments varying numerous parameters, we demonstrated the robustness of myside sharing and of its amplification by participants’ issue moralization and attitude extremity. First, those effects were consistently observed on both true (Experiments 1, 2, 3, 5a, 6a, 7, and 10) and fake (Experiments 4, 5b, 6b, 8, 9, and 10) news stories and across distinct operationalizations of our outcome variable. Moreover, myside sharing and its amplification by issue moralization and attitude extremity were systematically observed despite multiple manipulations of the sharing context. Namely, those effects were observed whether sharing was done from one's personal or an anonymous social media account (Experiments 5a and 5b), whether the audience was made of political friends or foes (Experiments 6a and 6b), and whether participants first saw intervention messages warning against the myside bias (Experiments 7 and 8), or an interactive intervention warning against the reputational costs of sharing mysided falsehoods (Experiments 9 and 10).

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Why Americans Hate Political Division but Can’t Resist Being Divisive

Will Blakely & Kurt Gray
Moral Understanding Substack
Originally posted 21 FEB 23

No one likes polarization. According to a recent poll, 93% of Americans say it is important to reduce the country's current divides, including two-thirds who say it is very important to do so. In a recent Five-Thirty-Eight poll, out of a list of 20 issues, polarization ranked third on a list of the most important issues facing America. Which is… puzzling.

The puzzle is this: How can we be so divided if no one wants to be? Who are the hypocrites causing division and hatred while paying lip service to compromise and tolerance?

If you ask everyday Americans, they’ve got their answer. It’s the elites. Tucker Carlson, AOC, Donald Trump, and MSNBC. While these actors certainly are polarizing, it takes two to tango. We, the people, share some of the blame too. Even us, writing this newsletter, and even you, dear reader.

But this leaves us with a tricky question, why would we contribute to a divide that we can’t stand? To answer this question, we need to understand the biases and motivations that influence how we answer the question, “Who’s at fault here?” And more importantly, we need to understand the strategies that can get us out of conflict.

The Blame Game

The Blame Game comes in two flavors: either/or. Adam or Eve, Will Smith or Chris Rock, Amber Heard or Jonny Depp. When assigning blame in bad situations, our minds are dramatic. Psychology studies show that we tend to assign 100% of the blame to the person we see as the aggressor, and 0% to the side we see as the victim. So, what happens when all the people who are against polarization assign blame for polarization? You guessed it. They give 100% of the blame to the opposing party and 0% to their own. They “morally typecast” themselves as 100% the victim of polarization and the other side as 100% the perpetrator.

We call this moral “typecasting” because people’s minds firmly cast others into roles of victim and victimizer in the same way that actors get typecasted in certain roles. In the world of politics, if you’re a Democrat, you cast Republicans as victimizers, as consistently as Hollywood directors cast Kevin Hart as comic relief and Danny Trejo as a laconic villain.

But why do we rush to this all-or-nothing approach when the world is certainly more complicated? It’s because our brains love simplicity. In the realm of blame, we want one simple cause. In his recent book, “Complicit” Max Bazerman, professor at Harvard Business School, illustrated just how widespread this “monocausality bias” is. Bazerman gave a group of business executives the opportunity to allocate blame after reviewing a case of business fraud. 62 of the 78 business leaders wrote only one cause. Despite being given ample time and a myriad set of potential causes, these executives intuitively reached for their Ockham’s razor. In the same way, we all rush to blame a sputtering economy on the president, a loss on a kicker’s missed field goal, or polarization on the other side.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Individuals prefer to harm their own group rather than help an opposing group

Rachel Gershon and Ariel Fridman
PNAS, 119 (49) e2215633119


Group-based conflict enacts a severe toll on society, yet the psychological factors governing behavior in group conflicts remain unclear. Past work finds that group members seek to maximize relative differences between their in-group and out-group (“in-group favoritism”) and are driven by a desire to benefit in-groups rather than harm out-groups (the “in-group love” hypothesis). This prior research studies how decision-makers approach trade-offs between two net-positive outcomes for their in-group. However, in the real world, group members often face trade-offs between net-negative options, entailing either losses to their group or gains for the opposition. Anecdotally, under such conditions, individuals may avoid supporting their opponents even if this harms their own group, seemingly inconsistent with “in-group love” or a harm minimizing strategy. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, these circumstances have not been investigated. In six pre-registered studies, we find consistent evidence that individuals prefer to harm their own group rather than provide even minimal support to an opposing group across polarized issues (abortion access, political party, gun rights). Strikingly, in an incentive-compatible experiment, individuals preferred to subtract more than three times as much from their own group rather than support an opposing group, despite believing that their in-group is more effective with funds. We find that identity concerns drive preferences in group decision-making, and individuals believe that supporting an opposing group is less value-compatible than harming their own group. Our results hold valuable insights for the psychology of decision-making in intergroup conflict as well as potential interventions for conflict resolution.


Understanding the principles guiding decisions in intergroup conflicts is essential to recognizing the psychological barriers to compromise and cooperation. We introduce a novel paradigm for studying group decision-making, demonstrating that individuals are so averse to supporting opposing groups that they prefer equivalent or greater harm to their own group instead. While previous models of group decision-making claim that group members are driven by a desire to benefit their in-group (“in-group love”) rather than harm their out-group, our results cannot be explained by in-group love or by a harm minimizing strategy. Instead, we propose that identity concerns drive this behavior. Our theorizing speaks to research in psychology, political theory, and negotiations by examining how group members navigate trade-offs among competing priorities.

From the Conclusion

We synthesize prior work on support-framing and propose the Identity-Support model, which can parsimoniously explain our findings across win-win and lose-lose scenarios. The model suggests that individuals act in group conflicts to promote their identity, and they do so primarily by providing support to causes they believe in (and avoid supporting causes they oppose; see also SI Appendix, Study S1). Simply put, in win-win contexts, supporting the in-group is more expressive of one’s identity as a group member than harming the opposing group, thereby leading to a preference for in-group support. In lose-lose contexts, supporting the opposing group is more negatively expressive of one’s identity as a group member than harming the in-group, resulting in a preference for in-group harm. Therefore, the principle that individuals make decisions in group conflicts to promote and protect their identity, primarily by allocating their support in ways that most align with their values, offers a single framework that predicts individual behavior in group conflicts in both win-win and lose-lose contexts.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Morals as Luxury Goods and Political Polarization

B. Enke, M. Polborn, and Alex Wu
NBER Working Paper No. 30001
April 2022
JEL No. D03,D72


This paper develops a theory of political behavior in which moral values are a luxury good: the relative weight that voters place on moral rather than material considerations increases in income.  This idea both generates new testable implications and ties together a broad set of empirical regularities about political polarization in the U.S. The model predicts (i) the emergence of economically left-wing elites; (ii) that more rich than poor people vote against their material interests; (iii) that within-party heterogeneity is larger among Democrats than Republicans; and (iv) widely-discussed realignment patterns: rich moral liberals who swing Democrat, and poor moral conservatives who swing Republican. Assuming that parties set policies by aggregating their supporters’ preferences, the model also predicts increasing social party polarization over time, such that poor moral conservatives swing Republican even though their relative incomes decreased. We relate these predictions to known stylized facts, and test our new predictions empirically.


This paper has shown that the simple idea of income-dependent utility weights – which is bolstered by a large body of evidence on “modernization” or “postmaterialism” – generates a host of new testable predictions and sheds light on various widely-emphasized stylized facts about the nature of political polarization and realignment patterns in the U.S. In particular, our approach offers a new lens through which the increased salience of moral and cultural dimensions of political conflict can be understood.

One aspect of polarization that we only briefly and informally touched upon is affective polarization: the stylized fact that people’s dislike of supporters of the other party has strongly increased over time (Iyengar, Sood and Lelkes, 2012; Iyengar et al., 2019). In our interpretation, this reflects that the distribution of moral values of Republican and Democrat voters have diverged over time as a result of sorting processes that are triggered by our account of morals as luxury goods. However, while much psychological research suggests that people get angry if others don’t share their basic moral convictions (Haidt, 2012), more research is needed to establish a direct link between increased voter sorting based on moral values and affective polarization.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Individual vulnerability to industrial robot adoption increases support for the radical right

Anelli, M., Colantone, I., & Stanig, P. 
(2021). PNAS, 118(47), e2111611118.


The success of radical-right parties across western Europe has generated much concern. These parties propose making borders less permeable, oppose ethnic diversity, and often express impatience with the institutions of representative democracy. Part of their recent success has been shown to be driven by structural economic changes, such as globalization, which triggers distributional consequences that, in turn, translate into voting behavior. We ask what are the political consequences of a different structural change: robotization of manufacturing. We propose a measure of individual exposure to automation and show that individuals more vulnerable to negative consequences of automation tend to display more support for the radical right. Automation exposure raises support for the radical left too, but to a significantly lower extent.


The increasing success of populist and radical-right parties is one of the most remarkable developments in the politics of advanced democracies. We investigate the impact of industrial robot adoption on individual voting behavior in 13 western European countries between 1999 and 2015. We argue for the importance of the distributional consequences triggered by automation, which generates winners and losers also within a given geographic area. Analysis that exploits only cross-regional variation in the incidence of robot adoption might miss important facets of this process. In fact, patterns in individual indicators of economic distress and political dissatisfaction are masked in regional-level analysis, but can be clearly detected by exploiting individual-level variation. We argue that traditional measures of individual exposure to automation based on the current occupation of respondents are potentially contaminated by the consequences of automation itself, due to direct and indirect occupational displacement. We introduce a measure of individual exposure to automation that combines three elements: 1) estimates of occupational probabilities based on employment patterns prevailing in the preautomation historical labor market, 2) occupation-specific automatability scores, and 3) the pace of robot adoption in a given country and year. We find that individuals more exposed to automation tend to display higher support for the radical right. This result is robust to controlling for several other drivers of radical-right support identified by earlier literature: nativism, status threat, cultural traditionalism, and globalization. We also find evidence of significant interplay between automation and these other drivers.


We study the effects of robot adoption on voting behavior in western Europe. We find that higher exposure to automation increases support for radical-right parties. We argue that an individual-level analysis of vulnerability to automation is required, given the prominent role played by the distributional effects of automation unfolding within geographic areas. We also argue that measures of automation exposure based on an individual’s current occupation, as used in previous studies, are potentially problematic, due to direct and indirect displacement induced by automation. We then propose an approach that combines individual observable features with historical labor-market data. Our paper provides further evidence on the material drivers behind the increasing support for the radical right. At the same time, it takes into account the role of cultural factors and shows evidence of their interplay with automation in explaining the political realignment witnessed by advanced Western democracies.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Bridging Political Divides by Correcting the Basic Morality Bias

Puryear, C., Kubin, E., Schein, et al. 
(2022, January 11).


Efforts to bridge political divides often focus on navigating complex and divisive issues. However, nine studies suggest that we should also focus on a more basic moral divide: the erroneous belief that political opponents lack a fundamental sense of right and wrong. This “basic morality bias” is tied to political dehumanization and is revealed by multiple methods, including natural language analyses from a large Twitter corpus, and a representative survey of Americans with incentives for accuracy. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans substantially overestimate the number of political outgroup members who approve of blatant wrongs (e.g., child pornography, embezzlement). Importantly, the basic morality bias can be corrected with a brief, scalable intervention. Providing information that just one political opponent condemns blatant wrongs increases willingness to work with political opponents and substantially decreases political dehumanization.

From the General Discussion

These findings provide vital insights into why the United States finds itself burdened by political gridlock, partisanship, and high levels of political dehumanization. It may be difficult to imagine how disagreement over details of political policy can make partisans unwilling to even speak to one another or see each other as equally human. However, it could be that Americans do not see themselves in conflict with an alternative ideology but with opponents who lack a moral compass entirely. Believing others lack this fundamental component of humanity has fueled intergroup conflict throughout history. If the political climate in America continues down this path, then it may not be surprising to see two parties—who believe each other embrace murder and theft—continue to escalate conflict.  

Fortunately, our results unveil a simple intervention with both large and broad effects upon the basic morality bias. Telling others that we oppose wrongs as basic as murder seems like it should provide no new information capable of altering how others see us. This was also supported by a pilot study showing that participants do not expect information about basic moral judgments to generally impact their evaluations of others. However, because the basic morality bias is common in the political domain, assuring opponents that we have even the most minimal moral capacities improves their willingness to engage with us. Most importantly, our results suggest that even just one person who successfully communicates their basic moral values has the potential to make their entire political party seem more moral and human.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Moral Leadership in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

W. Kidd & J. A. Vitriol
Political Psychology
First published: 27 September 2021


Voters commonly revise their political beliefs to align with the political leaders with whom they strongly identify, suggesting voters lack a coherent ideological structure causally prior to their political loyalties. Alternatively, voters may organize their preferences around nonideological concepts or values, such as moral belief. Using a four-wave panel study during the 2016 election, we examine the relationship between voters' own moral foundations and their perceptions of the candidates' moral beliefs. We observed a bidirectional relationship among Republicans, who revised both their own moral beliefs and their perceptions of Donald Trump to reduce incongruities. In contrast, Democrats revised their perceptions of Hillary Clinton to align with their own moral beliefs. Importantly, consistency between voters' and political candidates' moral beliefs was more common among partisans and led to polarized evaluations of the two candidates on Election Day.

From a PsyPost interview:

Trump supporters also appeared to adjust their moral foundations from to align more closely with their perceptions of Trump’s moral foundations. Perceptions of Trump at wave two changed how his supporters perceived their own moral beliefs at wave three. But this pattern was not found among Clinton supporters, who did not adjust their own moral beliefs.

“Political leadership is moral leadership,” the researchers told PsyPost. “Many voters revise even their fundamental views of what they describe as right and wrong based on their perceptions of the candidates they support. Ideas and positions that might have seemed out of bounds can become normalized very quickly if they receive support from political leaders.”

“That voters adjust their ‘perceptions’ of the candidates is also likely a reason partisan conflict often seems so intractable, as voters from each party may not even share a common understanding of the candidates in question, limiting any form of reasoned debate.”

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Attitude Moralization Within Polarized Contexts: An Emotional Value-Protective Response to Dyadic Harm Cues

D’Amore, C., van Zomeren, M., & Koudenburg, N. 
(2021). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.


Polarization about societal issues involves attitudinal conflict, but we know little about how such conflict transforms into moral conflict. Integrating insights on polarization and psychological value protection, we propose a model that predicts when and how attitude moralization (i.e., when attitudes become grounded in core values) may be triggered and develops within polarized contexts. We tested this model in three experiments (total N = 823) in the context of the polarized Zwarte Piet (blackface) debate in the Netherlands. Specifically, we tested the hypotheses that (a) situational cues to dyadic harm in this context (i.e., an outgroup that is perceived as intentionally inflicting harm onto innocent victims) trigger individuals to moralize their relevant attitude, because of (b) emotional value-protective responses. Findings supported both hypotheses across different regional contexts, suggesting that attitude moralization can emerge within polarized contexts when people are exposed to actions by attitudinal opponents perceived as causing dyadic harm.

From the Discussion Section

Harm as dyadic

First, our findings suggest that a focus on dyadic harm may be key to understanding triggers for attitude moralization within polarized contexts. Although most researchers have assigned the general concept of harm a central role in theory on moral judgments (e.g., Kohlberg, 1969; Piaget, 1965; Rozin & Singh, 1999; Turiel, 2006), no previous research on moralization has specifically focused on the dyadic element of harm within polarized contexts. The few empirical studies that examined the role of harm as a general (utilitarian) predictor in the process of attitude moralization about a polarized issue (Brandt et al., 2015; Wisneski & Skitka, 2017) did not find clear support for its predictive power. Interestingly, our consistent finding that strong cues to dyadic harm served as a situational trigger for attitude moralization adds to this literature by suggesting that for understanding moralization triggers within polarized contexts, it is important to understand when people perceive harm as more dyadic (in this case, when a concrete outgroup is perceived as intentionally harming innocent [ingroup] victims). Indeed, we suggest that, in polarized contexts at least, harm could trigger attitude moralization when it is perceived to be dyadic—that is, intentionally harmful. This implies that researchers interested in predicting attitude moralization within polarized contexts should consider conceptualizing and measuring harm as dyadic.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Harms of AI

Daron Acemoglu
NBER Working Paper No. 29247
September 2021


This essay discusses several potential economic, political and social costs of the current path of AI technologies. I argue that if AI continues to be deployed along its current trajectory and remains unregulated, it may produce various social, economic and political harms. These include: damaging competition, consumer privacy and consumer choice; excessively automating work, fueling inequality, inefficiently pushing down wages, and failing to improve worker productivity; and damaging political discourse, democracy's most fundamental lifeblood. Although there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that these costs are imminent or substantial, it may be useful to understand them before they are fully realized and become harder or even impossible to reverse, precisely because of AI's promising and wide-reaching potential. I also suggest that these costs are not inherent to the nature of AI technologies, but are related to how they are being used and developed at the moment - to empower corporations and governments against workers and citizens. As a result, efforts to limit and reverse these costs may need to rely on regulation and policies to redirect AI research. Attempts to contain them just by promoting competition may be insufficient.


In this essay, I explored several potential economic, political and social costs of the current path of AI technologies. I suggested that if AI continues to be deployed along its current trajectory and remains unregulated, then it can harm competition, consumer privacy and consumer choice, it may excessively automate work, fuel inequality, inefficiently push down wages, and fail to improve productivity. It may also make political discourse increasingly distorted, cutting one of the lifelines of democracy. I also mentioned several other potential social costs from the current path of AI research.

I should emphasize again that all of these potential harms are theoretical. Although there is much evidence indicating that not all is well with the deployment of AI technologies and the problems of increasing market power, disappearance of work, inequality, low wages, and meaningful challenges to democratic discourse and practice are all real, we do not have sufficient evidence to be sure that AI has been a serious contributor to these troubling trends.  Nevertheless, precisely because AI is a promising technological platform, aiming to transform every sector of the economy and every aspect of our social lives, it is imperative for us to study what its downsides are, especially on its current trajectory. It is in this spirit that I discussed the potential costs of AI this paper.

Friday, May 28, 2021

‘Belonging Is Stronger Than Facts’: The Age of Misinformation

Max Fisher
The New York Times
Originally published 7 May 21

Hereis an excerpt:

We are in an era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation. Plenty of bad actors are helping the trend along. 

But the real drivers, some experts believe, are social and psychological forces that make people prone to sharing and believing misinformation in the first place. And those forces are on the rise.

“Why are misperceptions about contentious issues in politics and science seemingly so persistent and difficult to correct?” Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College political scientist, posed in a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not for want of good information, which is ubiquitous. Exposure to good information does not reliably instill accurate beliefs anyway. Rather, Dr. Nyhan writes, a growing body of evidence suggests that the ultimate culprits are “cognitive and memory limitations, directional motivations to defend or support some group identity or existing belief, and messages from other people and political elites.”

Put more simply, people become more prone to misinformation when three things happen. First, and perhaps most important, is when conditions in society make people feel a greater need for what social scientists call ingrouping — a belief that their social identity is a source of strength and superiority, and that other groups can be blamed for their problems.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who put truth-seeking above all else, we are social animals wired for survival. In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information, true or not, that lets us see the world as a conflict putting our righteous ingroup against a nefarious outgroup.

This need can emerge especially out of a sense of social destabilization. As a result, misinformation is often prevalent among communities that feel destabilized by unwanted change or, in the case of some minorities, powerless in the face of dominant forces.

Framing everything as a grand conflict against scheming enemies can feel enormously reassuring. And that’s why perhaps the greatest culprit of our era of misinformation may be, more than any one particular misinformer, the era-defining rise in social polarization.

“At the mass level, greater partisan divisions in social identity are generating intense hostility toward opposition partisans,” which has “seemingly increased the political system’s vulnerability to partisan misinformation,” Dr. Nyhan wrote in an earlier paper.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Dynamics of Motivated Beliefs

Zimmermann, Florian. 2020.
American Economic Review, 110 (2): 337-61.

A key question in the literature on motivated reasoning and self-deception is how motivated beliefs are sustained in the presence of feedback. In this paper, we explore dynamic motivated belief patterns after feedback. We establish that positive feedback has a persistent effect on beliefs. Negative feedback, instead, influences beliefs in the short run, but this effect fades over time. We investigate the mechanisms of this dynamic pattern, and provide evidence for an asymmetry in the recall of feedback. Finally, we establish that, in line with theoretical accounts, incentives for belief accuracy mitigate the role of motivated reasoning.

From the Discussion

In light of the finding that negative feedback has only limited effects on beliefs in the long run, the question arises as to whether people should become entirely delusional about themselves over time. Note that results from the incentive treatments highlight that incentives for recall accuracy bound the degree of self-deception and thereby possibly prevent motivated agents from becoming entirely delusional. Further note that there exists another rather mechanical counterforce, which is that the perception of feedback likely changes as people become more confident. In terms of the experiment, if a subject believes that the chances of ranking in the upper half are mediocre, then that subject will likely perceive two comparisons out of three as positive feedback. If, instead, the same subject is almost certain they rank in the upper half, then that subject will likely perceive the same feedback as rather negative. Note that this “perception effect” is reflected in the Bayesian definition of feedback that we report as a robustness check in the Appendix of the paper. An immediate consequence of this change in perception is that the more confident an agent becomes, the more likely it is that they will obtain negative feedback. Unless an agent does not incorporate negative feedback at all, this should act as a force that bounds people’s delusions.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Polarization and extremism emerge from rational choice

Kvam, P. D., & Baldwin, M. 
(2020, October 21).


Polarization is often thought to be the product of biased information search, motivated reasoning, or other psychological biases. However, polarization and extremism can still occur in the absence of any bias or irrational thinking. In this paper, we show that polarization occurs among groups of decision makers who are implementing rational choice strategies that maximize decision efficiency. This occurs because extreme information enables decision makers to make up their minds and stop considering new information, whereas moderate information is unlikely to trigger a decision. Furthermore, groups of decision makers will generate extremists -- individuals who hold strong views despite being uninformed and impulsive. In re-analyses of seven previous empirical studies on both perceptual and preferential choice, we show that both polarization and extremism manifest across a wide variety of choice paradigms. We conclude by offering theoretically-motivated interventions that could reduce polarization and extremism by altering the incentives people have when gathering information.


In a decision scenario that incentivizes a trade-off between time and decision quality, a population of rational decision makers will become polarized. In this paper, we have shown this through simulations, a mathematical proof (supplementary materials) and demonstrated it empirically in seven studies.   This  leads  us  to  an  unfortunate  but  unavoidable  conclusion that decision making is a bias-inducing process by which  participants  gather  representative  information  from their environment and, through the decision rules they implement, distort it toward the extremes. Such a process also generates extremists, who hold extreme views and carry undue influence over cultural discourse (Navarro et al.,2018) despite being relatively uninformed and impulsive (low thresh-olds;Kim & Lee,2011). We have suggested several avenues for interventions, foremost among them providing incentives favoring estimation or judgments as opposed to incentives for timely decision making. Our hope is that future work testing and implementing these interventions will reduce the prevalence of polarization and extremism across social domains currently occupied by decision makers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The psychology and neuroscience of partisanship

Harris, E. A., Pärnamets, et al.


Why have citizens become increasingly polarized? The answer is that there is increasing identification with political parties —a process known as partisanship (Mason, 2018). This chapter will focus on the role that social identity plays in contemporary politics (Greene, 2002). These party identities influence political preferences, such that partisans are more likely to agree with policies that were endorsed by their political party, regardless of the policy content, and, in some cases, their own ideological beliefs (Cohen, 2003; Samuels & Zucco Jr, 2014). There are many social and structural factors that are related to partisanship, including polarization (Lupu, 2015), intergroup threat (e.g., Craig & Richeson, 2014), and media exposure (Tucker et al., 2018; Barberá, 2015). Our chapter will focus on the psychology and neuroscience of partisanship within these broader socio-political contexts. This will help reveal the roots of partisanship across political contexts.


A burgeoning literature suggests that partisanship is a form of social identity with interesting and wide-reaching implications for our brains and behavior. In some ways, the effects of partisanship mirror those of other forms of group identity, both behaviorally and in the brain. However, partisanship also has interesting biological antecedents and effects in political domains such as belief in fake news and conspiracy theories, as well as voting behavior. As political polarization rises in many nations across the world, partisanship will become an increasingly divisive and influential form of social identity in those countries, thus highlighting the urgency to understand its psychological and neural underpinnings.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Americans hate political opponents more than they love their own party, study finds

Sandee LaMotte
Updated 29 Oct 2020

Americans now hate people in the opposite political party more than they love their own party, with disrupting implications about behavior, a new study finds.

"Compared to a few decades ago, Americans today are much more opposed to dating or marrying an opposing partisan; they are also wary of living near or working for one," according to the study published Thursday in the journal Science.

"They tend to discriminate, as when paying an opposing partisan less than a copartisan for identical job performance or recommending that an opposing partisan be denied a scholarship despite being the more qualified applicant," the study said.

Leveraging data from 1975 through 2017 in nine Western democracies -- Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States -- the researchers found that by 2017 what they call "out-party hate" was stronger in the United States than in any other nation.

"The current state of political sectarianism produces prejudice, discrimination and cognitive distortion, undermining the ability of government to serve its core functions of representing the people and solving the nation's problems," said lead author Eli Finkel, a professor of social psychology at both Northwestern University's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Kellogg School of Management, in a statement.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The objectivity illusion and voter polarization in the 2016 presidential election

M. C. Schwalbe, G. L. Cohen, L. D. Ross
PNAS Sep 2020, 117 (35) 21218-21229; 


Two studies conducted during the 2016 presidential campaign examined the dynamics of the objectivity illusion, the belief that the views of “my side” are objective while the views of the opposing side are the product of bias. In the first, a three-stage longitudinal study spanning the presidential debates, supporters of the two candidates exhibited a large and generally symmetrical tendency to rate supporters of the candidate they personally favored as more influenced by appropriate (i.e., “normative”) considerations, and less influenced by various sources of bias than supporters of the opposing candidate. This study broke new ground by demonstrating that the degree to which partisans displayed the objectivity illusion predicted subsequent bias in their perception of debate performance and polarization in their political attitudes over time, as well as closed-mindedness and antipathy toward political adversaries. These associations, furthermore, remained significant even after controlling for baseline levels of partisanship. A second study conducted 2 d before the election showed similar perceptions of objectivity versus bias in ratings of blog authors favoring the candidate participants personally supported or opposed. These ratings were again associated with polarization and, additionally, with the willingness to characterize supporters of the opposing candidate as evil and likely to commit acts of terrorism. At a time of particular political division and distrust in America, these findings point to the exacerbating role played by the illusion of objectivity.


Political polarization increasingly threatens democratic institutions. The belief that “my side” sees the world objectively while the “other side” sees it through the lens of its biases contributes to this political polarization and accompanying animus and distrust. This conviction, known as the “objectivity illusion,” was strong and persistent among Trump and Clinton supporters in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election. We show that the objectivity illusion predicts subsequent bias and polarization, including heightened partisanship over the presidential debates. A follow-up study showed that both groups impugned the objectivity of a putative blog author supporting the opposition candidate and saw supporters of that opposing candidate as evil.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

America Is Being Pulled Apart. Here's How We Can Start to Heal Our Nation

David French
Time Magazine
Originally posted 10 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

I’ve been writing and speaking about national polarization and division since before the Trump election. Two years ago, I began writing a book describing our challenge, outlining how we could divide and how we can heal. The prescription isn’t easy. We have to flip the script on the present political narrative. We have to prioritize accommodation.

That means revitalizing the Bill of Rights. America’s worst sins have always included denying fundamental constitutional rights to America’s most vulnerable citizens, those without electoral power. While progress has been made, doctrines like qualified immunity leave countless citizens without recourse when they face state abuse. It alienates citizens from the state and drains confidence in the American republic.

That means diminishing presidential power. A principal reason presidential politics is so toxic is that the diminishing power of states and Congress means that every four years we elect the most powerful peacetime ruler in the history of the U.S. No one person should have so much authority over an increasingly diverse and divided nation.

The increasing stakes of each presidential election increase political tension and heighten public anxiety. Americans should not see their individual liberty or the autonomy of their churches and communities as so dependent on the identity of the President.

But beyond the political changes–more local control, less centralization–Americans need a change of heart. Defending the Bill of Rights requires commitment and effort, and it requires citizens to think of others beyond their partisan tribe. Defending the Bill of Rights means that you must fight for others to have the rights that you would like to exercise yourself. The goal is simple yet elusive. Every American–regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion or sexual orientation–can and should have a home in this land.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Hate Trumps Love: The Impact of Political Polarization on Social Preferences

Eugen Dimant
Published 4 September 20


Political polarization has ruptured the fabric of U.S. society. The focus of this paper is to examine various layers of (non-)strategic decision-making that are plausibly affected by political polarization through the lens of one's feelings of hate and love for Donald J. Trump. In several pre-registered experiments, I document the behavioral-, belief-, and norm-based mechanisms through which perceptions of interpersonal closeness, altruism, and cooperativeness are affected by polarization, both within and between political factions. To separate ingroup-love from outgroup-hate, the political setting is contrasted with a minimal group setting. I find strong heterogeneous effects: ingroup-love occurs in the perceptional domain (how close one feels towards others), whereas outgroup-hate occurs in the behavioral domain (how one helps/harms/cooperates with others). In addition, the pernicious outcomes of partisan identity also comport with the elicited social norms. Noteworthy, the rich experimental setting also allows me to examine the drivers of these behaviors, suggesting that the observed partisan rift might be not as forlorn as previously suggested: in the contexts studied here, the adverse behavioral impact of the resulting intergroup conflict can be attributed to one's grim expectations about the cooperativeness of the opposing faction, as opposed to one's actual unwillingness to cooperate with them.

From the Conclusion and Discussion

Along all investigated dimensions, I obtain strong effects and the following results: for one, polarization produces ingroup/outgroup differentiation in all three settings (nonstrategic, Experiment 1; strategic, Experiment 2; social norms, Experiment 3), leading participants to actively harm and cooperate less with participants from the opposing faction. For another, lack of cooperation is not the result of a categorical unwillingness to cooperate across factions, but based on one’s grim expectations about the other’s willingness to cooperate. Importantly, however, the results also cast light on the nuance with which ingroup-love and outgroup-hate – something that existing literature often takes as being two sides of the same coin – occurs. In particular, by comparing behavior between the Trump Prime and minimal group prime treatments, the results suggest that ingroup-love can be observed in terms of feeling close to one another, whereas outgroup hate appears in form of taking money away from and being less cooperative with each other. The elicited norms are consistent with these observations and also point out that those who love Trump have a much weaker ingroup/outgroup differentiation than those who hate Trump do.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic

Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris
The Atlantic
Originally published 12 July 20

Here is an excerpt:

Because of the intense polarization in our country, a great many Americans now see the life-and-death decisions of the coronavirus as political choices rather than medical ones. In the absence of a unifying narrative and competent national leadership, Americans have to choose whom to believe as they make decisions about how to live: the scientists and the public-health experts, whose advice will necessarily change as they learn more about the virus, treatment, and risks? Or President Donald Trump and his acolytes, who suggest that masks and social distancing are unnecessary or “optional”?

The cognition I want to go back to work or I want to go to my favorite bar to hang out with my friends is dissonant with any information that suggests these actions might be dangerous—if not to individuals themselves, then to others with whom they interact.

How to resolve this dissonance? People could avoid the crowds, parties, and bars and wear a mask. Or they could jump back into their former ways. But to preserve their belief that they are smart and competent and would never do anything foolish to risk their lives, they will need some self-justifications: Claim that masks impair their breathing, deny that the pandemic is serious, or protest that their “freedom” to do what they want is paramount. “You’re removing our freedoms and stomping on our constitutional rights by these Communist-dictatorship orders,” a woman at a Palm Beach County commissioners’ hearing said. “Masks are literally killing people,” said another. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, referring to masks and any other government interventions, said, “More freedom, not more government, is the answer.” Vice President Mike Pence added his own justification for encouraging people to gather in unsafe crowds for a Trump rally: “The right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

The info is here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Trust in Medical Scientists Has Grown in U.S.

C. Funk, B. Kennedy, & C. Johnson
Pew Research Center
Originally published 21 May 20

Americans’ confidence in medical scientists has grown since the coronavirus outbreak first began to upend life in the United States, as have perceptions that medical doctors hold very high ethical standards. And in their own estimation, most U.S. adults think the outbreak raises the importance of scientific developments.

Scientists have played a prominent role in advising government leaders and informing the public about the course of the pandemic, with doctors such as Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, among others, appearing at press conferences alongside President Donald Trump and other government officials.

But there are growing partisan divisions over the risk the novel coronavirus poses to public health, as well as public confidence in the scientific and medical community and the role such experts are playing in public policy.

Still, most Americans believe social distancing measures are helping at least some to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19. People see a mix of reasons behind new cases of infection, including limited testing, people not following social distancing measures and the nature of the disease itself.

These are among the key findings from a new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted April 29 to May 5 among 10,957 U.S. adults, and a new analysis of a national survey conducted April 20 to 26 among 10,139 U.S. adults, both using the Center’s American Trends Panel.

Public confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public has gone up from 35% with a great deal of confidence before the outbreak to 43% in the Center’s April survey. Similarly, there is a modest uptick in public confidence in scientists, from 35% in 2019 to 39% today. (A random half of survey respondents rated their confidence in one of the two groups.)

The info is here.