Science

Studies find that political “couple therapy” can heal split America

Since 2016, Braver Angels, a non-governmental organization, has held red / blue workshops in communities and universities across the United States. Credits: Braver Angels

Experts know that political polarization in the United States is a problem. According to Rob Blair, what they don’t know is what to do with it.


Thanks to countless recent studies and studies, the ideological gap between Republicans and Democrats today is greater than at any other time in American history, except during the post-Civil Reconstruction era. The fact that there is is widely accepted. Many believe that there is little opportunity for reconciliation because the two are so severely divided. But two years ago, Blair, an assistant professor of political science and international public relations at Brown University, attended. workshop It gave him hope.

The so-called Red / Blue Workshop was hosted by Braver Angels, a non-governmental organization launched in 2016 to help Americans look at each other beyond stereotypes and form community alliances. .. Prime Minister Blair said the workshop facilitators were intrigued by how the workshop facilitators led the Democrats and Republicans through exercises that encouraged introspection rather than the tactical debate borrowed from the couple’s therapists. Observing the exercises changed Blair’s view and wanted to see if it would be effective for the participants themselves.

In 2020, Blair and several other scholars partnered with Braver Angels to hold depolarization workshops on four university campuses, including Brown, with one pre-workshop survey for each workshop participant. And conducted two follow-up surveys. They found that students who attended the workshop a week later had 22% less direct hostility to the other party, were willing to donate money to the depolarization program, and had a low score on a partisan implicit bias test. I found. A series of politically relevant images were displayed in succession and asked to pair with randomly generated words such as “Republican” and “good.” Six months later, some of the effects of the workshop diminished, but participants still had less implicit bias and donated more money to the depolarization initiative than their peers who did not attend the workshop. I was willing to. Prime Minister Blair said extrapolating the effects of this size to the entire US adult population would be large enough to reverse about one-third of the increase in polarization over the last three decades.

Following the release of a working paper and a policy brief detailing the findings, Blair wondered how the study was devised, what the results mean, and the average American is the bipolar of their community. We answered the question about how we can alleviate the problem.

Q: What made you collaborate with Braver Angels?

I coordinate a consortium of multiple universities focused on the topic of democratic erosion. We combine education, research, public participation and policy activity to understand the threat to democracy in the United States and abroad. One of the problems that emerged in our work was the polarization of the United States. Whether it is a threat to democracy, and whether it is now a unique existential problem. At the time, my colleague Jechikat Reeve, who works at Texas A & M University, was working with several student organizations that said they were in contact with the Braver Angels. We examined their work and ideas, this model is really unusual and influential.

Q: You characterize Braver Angels’ work as “couple therapy” for a group of people with polarized political views. Which element of couple therapy does the organization use in the depolarization workshop?

I think one of the most important principles that the Braver Angels teach is mutual vulnerability. These workshops have two teams. Those who identify it as “red,” that is, conservative, and those who identify it as “blue,” that is, liberal. In the first exercise, “red” enters the room together and creates a list of stereotypes they think “blue” has about them. They list some reasons why stereotypes are false … but they also identify the true core of stereotypes. For example, many “blues” may come up with the stereotype that “red” believes to be a group of racists. “Red” gives some reasons why we think it’s wrong, but there are several ways that could eliminate racism and give people the impression that they are racists. Also explains. Then “Bruce” does the same exercise. They might say okay, “red” thinks we all hate America. Here are three or four examples that show that it is not true, but here is the heart of the truth. At times, it can be overly critical.

That experience of having to share the core of the truth-something that has to be admitted “on the other side” -it really creates a sense of vulnerability. Doing the same to see the other side has the same effect. The opportunity to see others being self-critical and putting themselves in a vulnerable position is key. There is not much interaction between the two groups. This is not an argument. The goal is not to convince each group to be right, but to give each group the opportunity to show their true color and hope that their perspective is a little better understood.

Q: I surveyed participants immediately after each workshop and 6 months later, and at 6 months the tolerance for the “opposite side” has dropped significantly. How do these depolarizing movements work in the long run?

It is true that the effects of the workshops have diminished over time, but they still exist. Six months after the workshop, even if you take the implicit associative test, which is more difficult to play than the direct survey questions, Control group, Although the difference is statistically weak. They were also willing to donate money to other depolarization programs-to put their money where their mouth was. This is especially noteworthy given what has happened in the United States over the last six months. We have entered a deadly pandemic. We wrestled with how we think of racism and police violence. We witnessed a severely divided presidential election season. It’s amazing that even in that pressure cooker environment, they are less polarized than before.

If there was no pandemic right after the workshop, I think we would have had better results in the long run. Braver Angels focuses on long-term solutions. The workshop is not intended to be a one-stop shop where you participate in it and you are forever depolarized. We encourage you to join a regional alliance that participates in programming to help you engage with the “other side”. Therefore, if you are a Democrat, we recommend that you attend the Republican National Committee. The reverse is also true. You bring the same curiosity, generosity, and desire to learn that you brought to the workshop. That’s how you maintain that open mind. This long-term involvement was not possible this time, as the pandemic closed all of these meetings. In more appropriate situations, I think a less biased view may be more persistent. Therefore, we are interested in expanding these workshops.

Q: If these workshops were expanded, how could this new, more politically tolerant sentiment reach upstream of powers such as lawmakers and corporate leaders to make a real difference? Do you imagine?

Whether the polarization is driven from bottom to top (eliminating clues from the components) or whether it is driven from top to bottom is more polarized and then the mass is polarized. There is a debate about whether or not it will become. I think it’s a little bit of both: there’s a feedback loop where the causative arrow points in both directions.

But to some extent, I think we, the masses, are demanding polarization from our political leaders. We don’t like it when they compromise. Conservatives want to “own a library” and liberals want to see “conservative tears”. We like to see the other side beaten rather than prefer our side to be lifted. So, if we can change that sentiment, that is, if we can convince the Americans that the elected leaders need to be less polarized, then our leaders are two. There will be less polarization. Stay in the office with the members.

Q: How can everyday people implement the Braver Angels workshop approach to reduce polarization in their community?

First of all, I think people need to look for opportunities to come into contact with real people “on the other side.” It doesn’t mean you have to look at Rachel Maddow or read The Wall Street Journal editorials. This means that you need to meet people who disagree in person to understand what they think, how they feel, and how they interact. One of the main reasons we are so polarized in this country is that we are more socially isolated than ever before. We tend to look for schools, workplaces and hobbies where people share our political beliefs.

I think the second step is to think differently about the purpose of the conversation if you have the opportunity to interact with someone “on the other side”. Do not discuss controversial issues such as gun rights or abortion, thinking that you intend to convince the other person that you are in the right position. Don’t try to persuade. Don’t try to find something in common. Just try to understand. Ask, “Why do you believe in what you are doing?” And instead of the aggressive “Why can you believe me …” method, “Please tell me the reason. I’m just interested.”

The third step is to use that conversation to extrapolate to another person on the other side. For example, a Republican with only one Democratic friend can easily say, “This one Democrat is okay. The problem is the rest of the Democrats.” But the Braver Angels workshops have taught me that in most cases the emotions are probably not really true. One of the highlights of attending the workshop is the surprising number of disagreements between Republicans and Democrats. Everyone deviates from the party stereotype in some way. If you notice, you can make a leap in logic from “this person is okay, but the rest aren’t okay” to “maybe they’re almost all okay” and can help break that mistake. The feeling that two parties are two monoliths fighting each other.


Political polarization: often not as bad as we think


For more information:
Can Hannah Baron and other Americans be depolarized? Assessment of the effect of mutual group reflexes on partisan polarization, (2021). DOI: 10.31219 / osf.io / 3x7z8

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Brown University

Quote: Political “couple therapy” may heal split America, research results (July 2, 2021) https://phys.org/news/2021-07-political-couples-therapy -Searched from america.html on July 2, 2021

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