Activity: Understanding the Other Side

This classroom activity was designed to be used in conjunction with the repository of resources at CivilPolitics.org. For this class, students were asked to read one piece on “Understanding the Other Side,” by choosing a piece from the side (liberal or conservative) opposed to the one they identify with. The site is maintained by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who is known for his work on the moral foundations underlying liberal and conservative views.

The first part of the exercise is an approximation of a “self-affirmation” task, as used by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler in their (2013) “Blank Slates or Closed Minds? The Role of Information Deficits and Identity Threat in the Prevalence of Misperceptions”. Nyhan and Reifler discovered a “backfire effect,” in which people who hold false political beliefs actually hold their beliefs more strongly after receiving the correct factual information. The backfire effect was reduced, however, when subjects first engaged in “self-affirmation” exercises where they recalled times in which they had successfully lived up to their values.

The reference to “construals” comes from Lee Ross and Andrew Ward’s (1995) “Naive Realism: Implications for Social Conflict and Misunderstanding.” Ross and Ward illustrate the importance of subjective construal by describing a study in which the exact same game led to strikingly different patterns of behavior, depending on whether it was called the “Wall Street Game” or the “Community Game.” They argue that the inability to make sufficient allowance for differences in subjective construal is a major factor in the persistence of social conflict.

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