Tarnya Davis: A world of polar opposites

Change your thinking: The researchers found that when people were trying to persuade someone towards their viewpoint, they consistently used their own values as reasoning

Change your thinking: The researchers found that when people were trying to persuade someone towards their viewpoint, they consistently used their own values as reasoning

BY TARNYA DAVIS

Sad to say, the only show I watch each week is Q&A (if I can manage to stay awake that late). My intention is to become more informed, but I sometimes wonder, am I? Much of the conversation is not conversation at all, but perhaps the rehashing of rehearsed strongly held beliefs, shared with us as a monologue. It is very rare to see a concession of a point in the battle to be right, from either side. Perhaps an unintended consequence of this kind of debate is to reinforce your viewpoint without listening to another.   

If we listen to the media it may be that we as a nation are becoming more polarised in our views. Social media to some extent feeds polarisation, with many people gaining information about the world through the silo of Facebook, where likes and shares breed more of the same perspective in your news feed and opposing views are dismissed or trashed with the stroke of a key. Refugees, the environment, same-sex marriage and tax reform – it seems we are at polar opposites. 

Rob Willer and Matthew Feinberg, social psychologists, have researched the polarisation of views with the aim of exploring how we may better understand another person’s perspective in order to better persuade them. Studying people in the US, they explored liberal and conservative opinions on issues such as same-sex marriage and the environment. The researchers found that for both sides, views were always the tip of the iceberg with values underpinning them. No surprises there, and no surprises that opposing views politically tend to have different values with different levels of importance. 

The researchers found that when people were trying to persuade someone towards their viewpoint, they consistently used their own values as reasoning. No wonder the discourse tended to be fruitless when the vehicle for delivery was not meaningful for them.  When people were encouraged to use a reason connected to the values of the person of the opposing view, they were more likely to be successful in persuading the other person. The researchers coined this “moral reframing”. 

The researchers pointed out that we tend to struggle to even listen to the other person’s opinion, let alone get below the surface to understand their value and perhaps even what they fear. Perhaps listening, rather than talking, is the first step.  

Tarnya Davis is a clinical and forensic psychologist and principal of NewPsych Psychologists. 

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