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Overcoming The Psychological Barriers to Combining Realism with Idealism

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

I was recently forwarded this thoughtful article by Peter Wehner, from Commentary Magazine, that talks about the need for people to appreciate the importance of idealism in striving for policy goals as well as the realism of compromise with others who also have valid parts of the truth.  From the article:

Politics is an inherently messy business. Moreover, the American founders–who developed the concepts of checks and balances, separation of powers, and all the rest–wanted politics to be messy. …

Too often these days, zealous people who are in a hurry don’t appreciate that the process and methods of politics–the “messy,” muddling through side of politics–is a moral achievement of sorts. But this, too, is only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that justice is often advanced by people who are seized with a moral vision. They don’t much care about the prosaic side of governing; they simply want society to be better, more decent, and more respectful of human dignity. So yes, it’s important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. But it’s also the case that politics requires us to strive for certain (unattainable) ideals….

What happens all too often in our politics is that people who are drawn to one tend to look with disdain on those who are drawn to the other. What we need, I think, is greater recognition that both are necessary, that each one alone is insufficient. Visionaries have to find a way to give their vision concrete expression, which requires deal-making, compromise, and accepting something less than the ideal. Legislators need to govern with some commitment to philosophical and moral ideals; otherwise, they’re just passing laws and cutting deals for their own sake.

Unfortunately, moral conviction is often negatively correlated with appreciating the need for compromise.  How then can we combine realism with idealism?  We here at CivilPolitics are actively supporting research to help understand how to remove these barriers to groups coming together despite moral disagreements and welcome contributions from academics who have good ideas.  Some ideas that have support in the research include improving the personal relationships between groups and introducing super-ordinate goals where moral agreement can occur.  In future months, we’ll be highlighting other recommendations along these lines to help combine realism with idealism.

- Ravi Iyer

 

 

 

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CivilPolitics.org comments on Hollande’s Political Strategy for BBC World

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

Earlier today, I appeared on BBC World’s Business Edition to comment on Francois Hollande’s efforts to unite union and business interests in working to improve the lagging French economy.  I provided the same advice that I often do to groups that are looking to leverage the more robust findings from social science in conflict resolution, specifically that rational arguments only get you so far and that real progress is often made when our emotions are pushing us toward progress, as opposed to working against us.  Accordingly, it often is better to try to get the relationships working first, in the hopes that that opens minds for agreement on factual issues.  As well, it is often helpful to emphasize super-ordinate goals, such as improving the economy as a whole in this case, as opposed to competitive goals such as hiring mandates.  Lastly, hopefully Hollande, as a socialist who is fighting for business interests, can help muddy the group boundaries that can make conflicts more intractable, providing an example of someone who is indeed focused on shared goals.

Below is the segment, and my appearance is about 2 minutes into the video.

- Ravi Iyer

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Pew Research highlights Social, Political and Moral Polarization among Partisans, but more people are still Moderates

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

A recent research study by Pew highlights societal trends that have a lot of people worried about the future of our country.  While many people have highlighted the political polarization that exists and others have pointed to the social and psychological trends underlying that polarization, Pew’s research report is unique for the scope of findings across political, social, and moral attitudes.  Some of the highlights of the report include:

  • Based on a scale of 10 political attitude questions, such as a binary choice between the statements “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” and  ”Government often does a better job than people give it credit for”, the median Democrat and median Republicans’ attitudes are further apart than 2004 and 1994.
  • On the above ideological survey, fewer people, whether Democrat, Republican, or independent, are in the middle compared to 1994 and 2004.  Though it is still worth noting that a plurality, 39% are in the middle fifth of the survey.
  • More people on each side see the opposing group as a “threat to the nation’s well being”.
  • Those on the extreme left or on the extreme right are on the ideological survey are more likely to have close friends with and live in a community with people who agree with them.

 

The study is an important snapshot of current society and clearly illustrates that polarization is getting worse, with the social and moral consequences that moral psychology research would predict when attitudes become moralized.  That being said, I think it is important not to lose sight of the below graph from their study.

 

Pew Survey Shows a Shrinking Plurality holds Moderate Views

Pew Survey Shows a Shrinking Plurality holds Moderate Views

 

Specifically, while there certainly is a trend toward moralization and partisanship, the majority of people are in the middle of the above distributions of political attitudes and hold  mixed opinions about political attitudes.  It is important that those of us who study polarization don’t exacerbate perceived differences, as research has shown that perceptions of differences can become reality.  Most Americans (79%!) still fall somewhere between having consistently liberal and consistently conservative attitudes on political issues, according to Pew’s research.  And even amongst those on the ends of this spectrum, 37% of conservatives and 51% of liberals have close friends who disagree with them.  Compromise between parties is still the preference of most of the electorate.  If those of us who hold a mixed set of attitudes can indeed make our views more prominent, thereby reducing the salience of group boundaries, research would suggest that this would indeed mitigate this alarming trend toward social, moral, and political polarization.

- Ravi Iyer

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Comparing World Cup Prediction Algorithms – Ranker vs. FiveThirtyEight

Reposted from this post on the Ranker Data Blog

Like most Americans, I pay attention to soccer/football once every four years.  But I think about prediction almost daily and so this year’s World Cup will be especially interesting to me as I have a dog in this fight.  Specifically, UC-Irvine Professor Michael Lee put together a prediction model based on the combined wisdom of Ranker users who voted on our Who will win the 2014 World Cup list, plus the structure of the tournament itself.  The methodology runs in contrast to the FiveThirtyEight model, which uses entirely different data (national team results plus the results of players who will be playing for the national team in league play) to make predictions.  As such, the battle lines are clearly drawn.  Will the Wisdom of Crowds outperform algorithmic analyses based on match results?  Or a better way of putting it might be that this is a test of whether human beings notice things that aren’t picked up in the box scores and statistics that form the core of FiveThirtyEight’s predictions or sabermetrics.

So who will I be rooting for?  Both methodologies agree that Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and Spain are the teams to beat.  But the crowds believe that those four teams are relatively evenly matched while the FiveThirtyEight statistical model puts Brazil as having a 45% chance to win.  After those first four, the models diverge quite a bit with the crowd picking the Netherlands, Italy, and Portugal amongst the next few (both models agree on Colombia), while the FiveThirtyEight model picks Chile, France, and Uruguay.  Accordingly, I’ll be rooting for the Netherlands, Italy, and Portugal and against Chile, France, and Uruguay.

In truth, the best model would combine the signal from both methodologies, similar to how the Netflix prize was won or how baseball teams combine scout and sabermetric opinions.  I’m pretty sure that Nate Silver would agree that his model would be improved by adding our data (or similar data from betting markets that similarly think that FiveThirtyEight is underrating Italy and Portugal) and vice versa.  Still, even as I know that chance will play a big part in the outcome, I’m hoping Ranker data wins in this year’s world cup.

- Ravi Iyer

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Intuitionism in Practice: How the Village Square puts Relationships First

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

Our friends at the Village Square recently wrote an article about how they have been able to bridge partisan divides in their community, based on their experiences at numerous community dinners they put on in their neighborhoods.  Their experience dovetails nicely with what has been found in academic psychology, specifically that any type of attitude change requires appealing to the intuitive side of individuals, in addition to the rational side.  Accordingly, their “irreverently named programs are part civic forum, part entertainment” where they seek first to build relationships to open people’s minds, before attempting to get people to rationally understand the other sides’ arguments.  From the article:

In “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart,” Bill Bishop documents how, in nearly all aspects of life, we’ve become less connected to those who don’t share our views – in the churches we go to, the clubs we join, the neighborhoods we live in.

No longer engaging across the aisle with neighbors, there’s little to mitigate the human tendency toward tribalism. Once we’ve demonized each other, the simple act of talking is tantamount to negotiating with evil.

To address this challenge, our irreverently named programs are part civic forum, part entertainment. Each event is casual (the stage is set up to feel like the facilitator’s living room) and involves sharing food. As we begin, we give out two “civility bells,” ask that the audience avoid tribal “team clapping,” and share a quote to inspire our better angels. We welcome fluid audience participation and always try to laugh.

Since we first imagined The Village Square, we have repeatedly returned to the same conclusion: We can’t wait around for Washington to lead on this. It’s in our hometowns, where we carpool to softball games and borrow cups of sugar, where we can most easily have the conversations democracy requires of us.

Recently, there has been a lot of re-examination of social science findings that may or may not replicate, especially in real-world environments.  The fact that social science research that emphasizes the importance of personal relationships in changing attitudes has found real world application and validation is comforting for those of us who would like to leverage this research in reducing morally laden conflicts.  Those of us who would like to mitigate the natural animosity that arises when competing groups are formed would do well to follow the Village Square’s lead and put relationships first.

- Ravi Iyer

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Cantor Loss shows Crowdsourcing, not Polling, is the Future of Prediction

Eric Cantor, the 2nd most powerful person in the House of Representatives, lost in the Republican Primary today to the relatively unknown Dave Brat. While others have focused on the historical nature of the loss, given Cantor’s position in his party, or on the political ramifications, I was most intrigued by the fact that polls conducted recently predicted Cantor would win by 34 points or 12 points.  In the end, Cantor lost by more than 10 points.

How did the polls get it so wrong?  In an age where people are used to blocking out web ads, fast forwarding through commercials, and screening their calls, using automated phone technology to ask people who they will vote for and assuming that you’ll get an unbiased sample (e.g. people who answer such polls don’t differ from those who do not answer automated polls) seems unwise.  The first banner ad got 44% clickthrough rates, but now banner ads are only clicked on by a small minority of internet users.  As response rates fall, bias is inevitable.

Pollsters may try to weight their polls and use new techniques to produce more perfect polls, but non-response bias will only get worse as consumers learn to block out more and more solicitations using technology.  On the other hand, a good crowdsourcing algorithm, such as the algorithm we use to produce Ranker lists, does not require the absence of bias.  Rather, such an algorithm will combine multiple sources of information, with the goal being to find sources of uncorrelated error.  In this case, polling data could have been combined with the GOP convention straw pollthe loss of one of his lieutenants in an earlier election, and the lack of support from Republican thought leaders, to form a better picture of the election possibilities as the non-response bias in regular polling is a different kind of bias than these other measurements likely have, and so aggregating these methods should produce a better answer.

This is easy to say in hindsight and it is doubtful that any crowdsourcing technique could have predicted Cantor’s loss, given the available data.  But more and more data is being produced and more and more bias is being introduced into traditional polling, such that this won’t always be the case, and I would predict that we will increasingly see less accurate polls and more accurate use of alternative methods to predict the future.  The arc of history is bending toward a world where intelligently combining lots of imperfect non-polling measurements are likely to yield a better answer about the future than one attempt to find the perfect poll.

- Ravi Iyer

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Prediction: The Replication Crisis will be Solved by Market Forces, not Academics

Social science is in an interesting place, especially my home discipline of social psychology.  Traditionally, it has been practiced by scholars at academic institutions who are relatively unaffected by market forces, which meant that it didn’t really matter to people’s careers if what was discovered in social science was actually used, but rather that those discoveries were published in the right journals.  A few enterprising scholars used this fact to build lucrative careers by simply inventing discoveries that nobody was going to check.  Still others do things that are not fraud, but certainly increase the chances of finding positive results, that may or may not be generally true.  Indeed, I think every scholar engages in some form of this, including things that aren’t currently seen as biased like trying different stimuli/materials when your initial stimuli doesn’t work (I’ve done this).

There is no top-down cure for this.  We could (and perhaps should) strive for ways to make research more perfect, and worthy organizations are working on that.  But social science research is never perfect, always requiring a sample that is biased in some way and some compromise as far as control, ecological validity, and measurement, and perhaps this is where the metaphor of trying to emulate “hard” sciences like physics fails.  It doesn’t fail because the researchers are less intelligent or careful…indeed working with human subjects requires more ingenuity.  But rather it fails because while an experiment done on one rock most likely replicates on the next rock, human beings vary to much greater degrees.  We don’t all react the same to profound stimuli like the end of Romeo and Juliet, the election of a black President, or the sight of violence, so should we expect us all to react so predictably to subconscious primes or invented tasks?

I work as a data/social scientist because I believe in the utility and power of working using data on human behavior, but it is fundamentally different than experimenting on rocks or chemicals, in that findings are always probabilistic.   You can make a lot of money and do a lot of good things based on probability…but it is not the same kind of knowledge as the knowledge that allows my car to start in the morning, my refrigerator to run on electricity, and your computer to translate my words into pixels on your screen, where near-absolute predictability allows those items to function.

Probabilistic knowledge is better dealt with in markets, as compared to the current peer review journal system.  Social scientists actually study this.  The journal system is not well equipped to deal with things that are not black and white as all it’s constituent parts (what gets published, who gets authorship, who gets hired) are black and white.  Markets let people make bets, hedge their bets, and come to some probabilistic version of truth.

Social science, whether social scientists are a part of it or not, is moving toward being a market, as far more data on human thought, communication, and behavior is captured by the tech industry than is captured by academics, and the tech industry is fully responsive to market forces.  Statisticians and data scientists now publish far more knowledge than is available in scholarly journals.  Most tech companies do thousands of experiments each year and bet real money on the outcomes.

There is absolutely a place for the well designed academic study in this world, as there certainly are gaps in what is understood by industry processes.  But the insertion of market forces into social science is bound to change academics away from publication for publication sake and toward creating knowledge that is useful, as there will be real money at stake.  Publishing a paper will no longer be the end accomplishment, but rather the productive use of the knowledge gained by one’s research.  In that world, it won’t really matter what you think of the methods, statistics or claims of another researcher.  If you really don’t believe in a particular phenomenon, you can bet against it, or if you believe in a particular fact about human nature, you can bet on it.  And if there is no market for that bet, then maybe the question wasn’t that important to begin with.

- Ravi Iyer

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Reducing Self-Interest Bias in Conflicts by Mitigating Disparities in Liking

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

One of the most difficult things for all of us to overcome in any competitive situation is self-serving bias.  The below video explains it in an intuitive and entertaining way.  How many sports fans can be counted on to objectively view the decisions of referees?  Not many.  And similarly, how can we expect members of a group to objectively judge the fairness of actions of other group members?  Even those of us who take great pains to see the viewpoints of the other side are likely influenced by unconscious bias in service of our self-interest.

These same processes explain how both Jews and Palestinians have divergent historical narratives that they are completely convinced is the only view, how fiscal liberals and conservatives have completely opposite ideas about economic history, and how sports fans can be so convinced that they are routinely robbed by referees.  Opposing groups are often going to see facts in a way that conforms to their moral worldview (see research on and examples of moral coherence).

Self-serving bias may be ubiquitous, but there are still situations and circumstances that may reduce or exacerbate these tendencies.  Recently, at the 2014 conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, I met Konrad Bocian who is investigating liking as a potential boundary condition.  Specifically (as is described in the below video), self-serving bias may occur only when it is done by people one has greater liking for.  In three studies, Bocian and colleagues measured moral judgments of rule-breaking behavior that benefited the judging party, and observed that feelings toward the perpetrator of the behavior were central to these moral judgments, even when the behaviors benefited the judging party.

This work relates to the Asteroids Club paradigm that is being pioneered by The Village Square, in that a central aspect of such meetings is to reduce the disparity in liking between members of one’s own group and members of opposing groups.  This hypothesis should be tested directly, but perhaps in moderating our feelings toward both our own groups and competing groups, we can mitigate some of the self-interest bias that exists in all conflicts and learn to disagree more productively.

- Ravi Iyer

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The Village Square helps partisans recognize common threats

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

One of the more robust findings in social psychology is the idea that common goals reduce inter-group conflicts.  Several groups have recently taken this finding into the field, using Jonathan Haidt’s Asteroids Club model, including a dinner we co-hosted with the Nathan Cummings Foundation.  The group that has done the most with this concept is undoubtedly the Village Square, an organization that has put together a series of dinners where liberals learn about conservative concerns, and conservatives learn about liberal concerns, with the idea that people can come together, over food, to learn about issues that everyone should be concerned about.

Part of Civil Politics mission is to examine how research is used in practice and so we recently partnered with the Village Square to survey participants of a recent dinner where liberals learned about conservative concerns about the decline of individual moral behavior and conservatives learned about liberal concerns about moral corruption in politics (also see coverage in the Tallahassee Democrat).   We asked participants in the survey to agree or disagree with the following statements:

  • Liberals are generally good people.
  • Conservatives are generally good people
  • The decline of individual moral behavior is a serious issue that we should work together to correct.
  • The moral corruption of our political process through the influence of money is a serious issue that we should work together to correct.

 

The first thing we learned is that it is really hard to get people to answer survey questions with no payoff or incentive, and so only 10% of the approximately 150 people who attended completed the surveys.  As a result, the differences below are not statistically significant and consumers of traditional statistics would say that there is no difference.  A Bayesian approach (that I subscribe to) would say that this is relatively weak evidence.  With that caveat in mind, below are the survey results.

Village Square Asteroids Club Survey Results

It appears there were slight benefits as to how liberals and conservatives were perceived by the audience, with both groups being perceived as slightly more good.  However, the most important result is the last 2 bars, where, even in a case where participants already perceived the dual “asteroids” as serious, the event appears to have spurred some participants to take these threats even more seriously.  Research would indicate that forging a common bond should indeed lead to the possibility of greater inter-group cooperation.

That being said, this is indeed weak statistical evidence, given the small sample size and should be contextualized within the results of other Asteroid’s Club results.  Hopefully going forward, we’ll start to see a consistent pattern amongst events, such that sum of such weak evidence, combined with the results of lab studies, tells a consistent story.  If your organization is doing conflict resolution work (any conflict between groups will do, not just in the realm of politics) and would like to be part of that story, please do contact us and we would be happy to setup a similar survey for your event, to see if it does indeed bring people together, as well as to contribute ideas from our research.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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Cinco De Mayo and Tips for Marketing to the Hedonistic Pleasure Seeker

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is not a particularly important historical holiday.  However, it is an important holiday for both beer drinkers and beer companies, given that more than $600 million worth of beer is consumed on Cinco de Mayo, more than on The Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day.  This is one case where the market research supports my anecdotal experience: some people (and I fall into this group) just want an excuse to have a party.cincodemayo

Decades of social science research on values suggest that valuing pleasure (Hedonism) is indeed a stable personality trait that drives behavior.  While many wouldn’t elevate the pursuit of pleasure to the realm of higher order pursuits, there is no denying the fact that many individuals do indeed act as if the pursuit of pleasure is indeed a central life goal.  And many of those people will be drinking beer on Cinco de Mayo.  I’ve been working with Zenzi Communications to understand how to market to people for whom pleasure seeking is a central goal and below are 5 tips from ValueBase, our database of findings related to specific value types, for marketing the the hedonistic pleasure seeker:

  • Portray your product as an experience rather than a material item.  Encourage them to savor your product.
  • Emphasize the uniqueness of an experience.  Pleasure seekers enjoy being unique.
  • Leave out the “Green” messaging.  Pure pleasure seekers aren’t necessarily concerned with how environmental their consumption is.
  • Associate your product with the rich and famous.  Pleasure seekers appreciate the idea that what they consume is socially prestigious.
  • Aim for excitement!  Pleasure seekers are always up for an exciting new adventure.

Note that pleasure itself is not a single thing.  Recent research from Zenzi has found that people who seek moral pleasure or intellectual pleasure are actually quite different than those who seek sensual pleasure in many ways.  Contact Zenzi for more information.

- Ravi Iyer

ps.  looking for beer recommendation for Cinco de Mayo, look at Ranker’s beer graph.

 

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