Fostering Respect and Engagement in Political Debates Through Balanced Pragmatism

In an era marked by growing polarization across democracies worldwide, civilized political debates may seem like a distant dream. However, two recent studies published by the American Psychological Association suggest that people are still eager to engage in discussions with those holding opposing views, especially when they present themselves as balanced, solution-oriented, and open to learning.

The Power of Balanced Pragmatism

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General explored how U.S. politicians and citizens with differing political beliefs could effectively share their ideas on divisive issues while fostering mutual respect. Co-author Curtis Puryear, PhD, emphasized the importance of showing concern for understanding the other side’s perspective, stating, “If you show you care about understanding the other side’s concerns, it goes a long way towards fostering respect.”

The researchers found that posts combining balance with pragmatism were most effective in increasing participants’ respect for politicians and their willingness to engage with them. As Puryear noted, “People also want leaders who understand their constituents, who care about their concerns, and have the practical knowledge to find solutions. These are the qualities of balanced and pragmatic leaders.”

Intellectual Humility: A Key to Productive Dialogue

Another study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, discovered that people are more willing to discuss controversial topics with those holding opposing views when both parties express intellectual humility – the recognition that one’s knowledge has limits and beliefs could be wrong.

Lead author Larissa Knöchelmann, MSc, highlighted the significance of intellectual humility in fostering productive political discussions, stating, “Political discussions are important for a democratic society. When people have conversations, they can learn about new perspectives, reduce misunderstandings and work together.”

The study found that intellectually humble participants had warmer feelings and more positive evaluations toward groups with different political opinions. Moreover, intellectually humble conversation partners were approached more and avoided less, as they were perceived as more likable and the conversations with them were seen as more calm, comfortable, and open.

In conclusion, while rising political animosity may seem daunting, these studies offer hope for more civilized and productive political debates. By embracing balanced pragmatism and intellectual humility, both politicians and ordinary citizens can foster respect, understanding, and a willingness to engage with those holding opposing views – a crucial step towards finding common ground and solutions in an increasingly polarized world.

“Using ‘Balanced Pragmatism’ in Political Discussions Increases Cross-Partisan Respect,” by Curtis Puryear, PhD, Northwestern University, and Kurt Gray, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published online March 7, 2024.

“Effects of Intellectual Humility in the Context of Affective Polarization: Approaching and Avoiding Others in Controversial Political Discussions,” by Larissa Knöchelmann, MSc, and J. Christopher Cohrs, PhD, University of Marburg: Philipps-Universität Marburg. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published online May 13, 2024.

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