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How to Transcend the Red-Blue Divide: Make Everyone Sit Still

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When was the last time you watched a political news program whose outlook you didn’t agree with — not to make fun, or to take pleasure in criticizing, but because you sincerely wanted to learn something?

If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “never,” or thereabouts. The U.S. has famously divided into red and blue states whose citizens vote Republican or Democrat, and who have little tolerance for the other side’s point of view.

Psychologists proffer many explanations for this polarization, including “confirmation bias,” a quirk of human nature that leads us to focus on information that confirms our original beliefs, and to tune out the rest.

But recent research suggests that our action-oriented “Just do it!” culture heightens this tendency. The psychologists William Hart and Dolores Albarracin recently conducted a series of experiments showing that when people’s minds are attuned to the idea of action, they become more close-minded. They don’t slow down cognitively to consider other people’s points of view.

Here’s a description of the first of these studies, from Miller-McCune:

“72 undergraduates were asked to consider the question of whether hate speech should be banned from college campuses. They read about a specific case and then expressed their preliminary position, knowing they would have the opportunity to read more information on the subject.

The students were then instructed to complete a simple word test during what they were told was a “brief break” from their experiment. All were presented 12 words with missing letters; they were asked to fill in the letters and complete the word.

For half the students, eight of the words were action-oriented, including “motivation,” “doing” and “active.” For the other half, eight connoted inaction, including “still,” “pause” and “calm.”

Participants were then asked how strongly they held their beliefs on the hate speech issue. Afterward, they were given a chance to consider new, relevant information, in the form of 12 thesis statements that either supported or opposed their viewpoint.

The researchers found the participants with action concepts on their minds held firmer beliefs and were more likely than the others to choose statements that were consistent with their own opinions. Those who completed the words connoting passivity were also prone to this bias but to a significantly lesser degree.”

We live in a society that regards passivity as a moral failing. But if sitting still opens minds and promotes bipartisanship, then we could all use a little less action and a little more contemplation.

 


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