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Extremists are more likely to believe in Conspiracies

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

One of the core recommendations of Civil Politics is to emphasize cooperation over competition, which often involves getting the silent majority in the middle involved in conflict resolution, rather than leaving it to the extreme partisans on both sides of an issue whose identities are often tied to the conflict.  Congruent with this is recent research led by Jan-Wilem van Prooijen, showing that extremists on both sides are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.  From a blog post written by the lead author on the London School of Economics blog:

Our findings establish a link between political extremism and a general susceptibility to conspiracy beliefs. Although the extreme left may sometimes endorse different conspiracy theories (e.g. about capitalism) than the extreme right (e.g. about science or immigration), both extremes share a conspiratorial mindset, as reflected in a deep-rooted distrust of societal leaders, institutions, and other groups, allied with a corresponding tendency to explain unexpected, important events through conspiracy theories. This insight may be relevant for the question of why those on the political extremes have displayed substantial intolerance of other-minded groups, often with devastating consequences, on so many occasions throughout history.

- Ravi Iyer

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New Research Supports Age Old Ideas for Civility

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

I recently attended the 2015 meeting for the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, which is the main gathering for academic social psychologists. Here, psychologists gather to share their latest and greatest new research. My goal was to find as much research as possible that may be of interest to our Civil Politics readers (e.g. research relating to bringing together groups across moral divisions in their community).

The meeting can be rather overwhelming as there are hundreds of panelists and thousands of posters competing for your attention, each of which may contain several novel research studies. One of my favorite sessions from this year was a panel entitled: “Finding Patterns in a Maze of Data” and emphasized that “Robust discoveries require the recognition of clear patterns that exist across a wide range of data. By finding these patterns, researchers can construct integrative theories that capture broad fundamental truths.” (full program here) While there may be thousands of potential findings to report, they are all often different takes on the same themes and it is in this convergence, across methods, samples, and research groups, that lends credence to any research discovery. At Civil Politics, we use this same method to gather evidence for our recommendations across existing research, new research, evidence and experience from practitioners, and patterns in the news, with convergence leading to greater confidence that improved interpersonal relationships and emphasizing cooperation over competition are indeed robust evidence-based recommendations. Accordingly, below are a number of new research findings that support and provide nuance as to our existing recommendations, as well as findings that suggest new potential recommendations.

Improving interpersonal relationships

The contact hypothesis, which posits that interpersonal contact under the right conditions can reduce intergroup tensions,  was developed 60 years ago, but research continues to this day.  For example, this poster by Kristin Davies of York College, showed how contact can extend to the online world, such that online interactions, especially high quality interactions, with members of outgroups was associated with positive feelings toward those groups.

2015-02-27 13.34.53

 

The above poster is correlational, so there are many explanations for the relationships found, but when put in context with all the other research on the contact effect, both at this conference and in the literature more broadly, the patterns are quite clear that positive contact can indeed improve inter-group relations.  Another poster from researchers at UCLA used an experimental paradigm and showed a similar effect using a different target group (gender-atypical or overweight individuals), with visual exposure to these groups reducing prejudice.

spsp_visual_exposure_intergroup

A related study led by Curtis Boykin at UC Berkeley, shows how surveys of people of different religious backgrounds indicates that the quality of interactions with people of other religions may a persons’ attitudes toward people of differing religions.

religious_extended_contact

This next poster led by Jonathan Cadieux and Alison Chasteen at the University of Toronto, sought to refine the mechanism whereby quality contact with older individuals led to less ageist attitudes, showing that measures of self-other overlap with older individuals helped explain this decrease.

spsp_contact_ageing

It’s worth noting that the above studies, all in-line with existing research, used varied samples (students vs workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), methods (surveys vs. experiments), and target groups (by age, race, religion, and body type) and all came to similar conclusions.  It is this kind of convergence that gives us confidence in recommending improving cross-group relationships as a means toward bridging inter-group divisions.

How can we improve cross-group relationships?  Mere exposure is not enough and the above studies emphasize the quality of contact across groups, an idea that has been explored previously in the literature as well.  For example, the below poster, led by Sara Driskell and Mary Murphy at Indiana University, shows how uncomfortable/negative contact such as being forced to touch a stranger, can actually lead to worse inter-group attitudes.

spsp_interpersonal_touching_less_positivity

Similarly, this study from Kathleen Oltman at Yale, shows how even imagined negative contact with an individual of another race can lead to more negative attitudes toward the whole group.

spsp_one_bad_apple

The above study did not find that positive imagined contact had the opposite effect, as the effects from negative imagined experience were greater.  This has been found in previous literature, where negative experiences are more impactful than positive experiences, which is something that people bringing groups together should be aware of.  The below poster, let by Pirathat Techakesari of the University of Queensland, explores this asymmetry in more detail.  In an experience sampling study of attitudes of White vs. Asian Australians, they showed that negative experiences may be more impactful for majority groups, but that this asymmetry was not found for minority groups.

spsp_positive_negative_asymmetry

Clearly those seeking to bring groups together should avoid exacerbating differences through negative inter-group experiences.  Another potential negative effect that I may not have thought of was presented by Fabian Schellhaas and colleagues, as they expanded on previous research that showed that positive cross-group contact can undermine the desire for disadvantaged groups to mobilize to change the status quo by showing that this happens more when the individuals involved are perceived as typical members of their group.

positive_cross_group_contact

Finally, the below meta-analysis of extended contact effects, which involves a line of research that shows that seeing other people’s inter-group friendships can improve one’s own inter-group attitudes, further emphasizes the importance of relationship quality, as opposed to mere contact.

spsp_what_is_extended_contact

In summary, while no study is conclusive and all have flaws, including these, there is a great deal of convergent evidence from new research that confirms and expands upon what we already knew from previous research, specifically that positive experiences with members of other groups leads to better inter-group attitudes.

Fostering Cooperation over Competition

Our second main recommendation for improving cross-group divisions is to foster cooperation over competition.  A number of studies at this conference also confirmed and expanded upon previous work in this area.  Competition often arises from scarcity, threat, and the resulting competition for limited resources that can stave off these threats.  As such, consistent with previous research, reminders of one’s own mortality and the possibility of death are detrimental to inter-group relationships.  Here, Israeli soldiers who were reminded of their mortality showed decreased positive attitudes toward Israeli-Arabs.

mortality_salience_helping

More generally, a simulation using public goods dilemmas, led by Bobby Cheon of Nanyang Technological University, showed how threat can lead to an adaptive response where individuals favor their ingroups over others.

threat_reduces_cooperation

Similarly, the below study led by Amy Krosch at NYU, used psycho-physiological measurements to show that scarcity leads to greater lag in encoding other-race faces, suggesting that this may be a mechanism for the dehumanization that often precedes inter-group tension and violence.

scarcity_dehumanization

Threat and the competition for limited resources does not have to involve physical goods.  Many wars have been started in part due to collective humiliation and the below study led by Liesbeth Mann of the University of Amsterdam, also indicates that group based humiliation can lead to aggression, with the caveat that this may be more true for higher status individuals.

humiliation_leads_to_aggression

In contrast, in the absence of threat, seeing cooperation amongst those from an out-group actually may lead to a perception of opportunity rather than threat, as this study by Shiang-Yi Lin and Dominic Packer from Lehigh University showed.

cooperation_minimal_groups

Indeed, the lack of a competitive situation can often change the meaning of many things that would otherwise be perceived as threatening.  One interesting talk from the “Finding Patterns in a Maze of Data” symposium by Adam Galinsky at Columbia, showed how competition can lead the same forces that bind us (glue) to fan the flames of conflict (gasoline).  Specifically, intergroup contact, similarity, flattery, and perspective-taking can all actually lead to greater conflict in a competitive context, even as they bind people together in cooperative contexts.

glue_to_gasoline_competition

The above research naturally begs the question as to how we get more cooperation and less threat.  One method that is often used is to prime a collective goal or identity that can be shared across groups.  Consistent with this previous research, the below study led by Abraham Rutchick at Cal-State Northridge, suggests that greater perceptions of a super-ordinate identity (e.g. we are all Americans), leads to more bipartisan behavior.

ingroup_projection_superordinate

If threat increases competition, and therefore increases intergroup tensions, it stands to reason that situations that reduce threat will increase cooperation.  For example, the below study by Rodolfo Barragan of Stanford showed how increasing perceptions of the goodness of others may increase cross-group collaboration, perhaps by instilling a more global superordinate identity.

spsp_goodness_collaboration

At a more psychological level, the below study led by Mollie Price at the University of Missouri showed how mindfulness may reduce one’s anxiety and threat sensitivity, leading to improved inter-group attitudes.

mindfulness_reduces_intergroup_anxiety

Similarly, feelings of hope, which may be helped by perceptions of a world that is dynamic and changing, can also lead to an improved desire to cross group divisions, as this work led by Smadar Cohen-Chen of Northwestern shows.

perceptions_changing_world_hope_conflict

One way that competition ensues is when conflicts become moralized.  Here, differences are no longer matters of preference, but take on an existential quality, where the beliefs of another group threaten one’s identity.  In the below work we see work led by William Fraser at UT-Austin,  on how people who have are fused with ideological groups tend have extreme beliefs and behaviors that may exacerbate inter-group tensions.

spsp_fusion_ideology_extremity

In addition, this study led by Tamar Kreps at Stanford shows how people who moralize an issue may see the world through the lens of that issue, making it harder to bridge intergroup divisions.

spsp_issue_becomes_lens

As a result, when we have competitive situations between two morally conflicting groups, we see not just a difference of opinion, but a dehumanization of the other group.  In this study led by Joanna Sterling at NYU, we see this dehumanization measured in terms of less higher order cognition attributions to the other side.

spsp_less_high_order_cognition

This extremity, singular perspective, and reduced consideration as to the humanity of the out-group can lead to violence.  In the below picture, Matt Motyl, professor at University of Illinois and a board member of Civil Politics, is having work by Nate Carnes from UMass-Amherst explained to him.  The study shows specifically how moral motives can be associated with endorsement of intergroup violence.

matt_spsp_watch_morality_stimulates_violence

morality_promotes_violence_spsp

 

The above recap represents just a percentage of the research presented at SPSP 2015, given that multiple sessions occur at any time.  While each year, much new research is presented, a great deal of this research supports old ideas, just in new contexts.  For example, while past researchers may have studied race in the context of school integration, these researchers are studying body image in the context of online settings, yet the variables they use – specifically positive experiences with other groups – remain the same.  Similarly, the idea that tensions often arise between groups that compete with each other for scarce resources, whether they be a piece of land or jobs or a sports championship, is an old line of research.  However, new mechanisms that increase or reduce threat/competition are being explored as there are many avenues toward fostering cooperation between groups.  Hopefully this overview of some of the more pertinent new research can both confirm existing ideas that people trying to bring groups together already have and inform some new ideas as well.

- Ravi Iyer

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Two Evidence-Based Recommendations for Civil Disagreement

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

Navigating the scientific literature can be difficult as there is so much research being produced these days and so much controversy as to what findings are “real”, that it can be hard to know what evidence-based recommendations to follow.  In order to help provide clarity to the journalists, organizations, and others who get information from Civil Politics, we would like to make two main recommendations.  These recommendations are not exhaustive and there are certainly other avenues of research.  And they are broad, such that the way that they are practiced may vary depending on the situation.  But these recommendations are also broad in terms of the evidence that supports them and this same breadth also provides practitioners options as far as how to effectively practice these recommendations.

werecommend

Our recommendations:

1. Improve inter-personal relationships – There is a rich psychological literature on how positive contact between groups increases the likelihood that greater cooperation and less demonization across groups will occur.  This can occur either between individuals or at the group level, whereby individuals see that people of their group are getting along with others in the other group (known as the extended contact effect).  The psychological research on this phenomenon dates from the civil rights area, and continues to be replicated in labs across the country to this day, such that we can have confidence in it (see more research here).  Evidence for the utility of promoting positive relationships between groups is not only found in the psychological literature, but also in prominent examples of cross-group cooperation (e.g. Reagan and Tip O’Neill or more recently, Patty Murray and Paul Ryan) and in the successful practices of numerous organizations that work in the community such as A2Ethics, Living Room Conversations and The Village Square.  Intuitively, we all know that relationships matter as much as facts, and so organizations seek to build culture, doctors get to know patients, salespeople get to know clients, and diplomats work to build relationships as well.  Yet sometimes in the heat of a morally charged conflict, we may start to see the other side as personally repugnant, and it is exactly at these times when relationship building needs to occur as it is hard to find common ground with someone you find personally reprehensible.  Many inter-group conflicts actually occur between people who are actually quite alike in many ways (e.g. baseball fans, political junkies, bloods and crips, etc.) and the opportunity exists to take advantage of what people have in common to forge better relationships.  And once the intuitions and emotions are pulling us to cooperate, our views of the facts often follow.

2.  Emphasize cooperative goals vs. competitive goals – In most conflicts, the extremists on each side will seek to emphasize the enduring intractable nature of a conflict.  Consider how both militant Islam and those who are openly anti-Muslim seek to characterize the divide in the same way; as a fundamental zero-sum conflict, and the same could be said of how the far-left and far-right seek to characterize American politics as fundamental battles between good and evil.  Yet there are often goals that are shared by both groups that lead to cooperation, at least amongst those who are in the vast middle (e.g. it is only the shared goal of avoiding government default and shutdown that often leads to the passing of legislation).  There is a vast amount of psychological research that relates to how competition for limited resources leads to inter-group conflict (Realistic Conflict Theory), and researchers are constantly showing how variables that relate to this paradigm (e.g. increased threat or decreased scarcity of resources) impact inter-group relations.  As with our first recommendation, the research in this area is bolstered by the experiences that organizations have had in creating cooperative settings.  For example, the Village Square has held several successful events leveraging Jonathan Haidt’s Asteroids Club paradigm where partisans seek to recognize problems that both sides can agree are real issues and Living Room Conversations attempts to create a personal setting where people can work together on goals that everyone can agree upon: safer communities and reduced prison costs.  There are also many examples from the news where cooperation occurs when a larger goal can be identified (e.g. this recent Politico article where George Soros and Bill Koch work together on prison reform).  We all know that competition breeds animosity, even amongst those who would otherwise be friends, as evidenced in every sports rivalry across the country.  Yet just as sports fans unite to sing the national anthem, so too can those who find themselves divided seek to consciously remember the larger groups and goals that can indeed bring them together and emphasize those.

We are periodically asked by journalists, organizations, and site visitors about crossing moral divisions and are hopeful that these two simple recommendations can help cut through what can otherwise be a rather opaque literature on evidence-based methods.  Both of these recommendations are supported by dozens of articles and hundreds of studies, as well as countless hours of work and experience by practitioners.  At some level, these techniques are intuitive and are things we already know…but they are also things that we often forget in the heat of a debate, and we are hopeful that reminding people to consciously apply these techniques can make a difference.

- Ravi Iyer

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CivilPolitics Annual Report for 2014

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

The below text is from our annual report produced for 2013-14. The report is also available via PDF. If you are interested in contributing to Civil Politics or working with us, please contact us.

To Our Stakeholders

Overview

As of the end of 2014, CivilPolitics had been incorporated for roughly 15 months.  In that time, we have made significant progress in terms of both contributing to our collective understanding of moral conflict and defining our organizations’ unique niche within this world, where numerous other organizations already exist that do complimentary work.  In this report, we’ll talk first about what we have done in 2014, including both what has and what has not worked, and then what that has meant as far as defining CP’s niche going forward.  We will then talk about our plans for 2015.

2013-14 in Review

Our organization’s mission is to facilitate the application of evidence-based methods for improving inter-group relationships.  Our methodology for doing this leverages the unique place that we start from, as a group of academics that also have experience with educating the public about research.  The diagram below illustrates how we expect this to occur, with academic research informing those who are attempting to bridge gaps in the real world, but also with information from real world practitioners informing the questions that need more study by academics.

In 2013-14, we have worked with a number of practice partners directly, providing recommendations as to the best practices suggested from our research. Some examples include:

  • The film makers behind Bring It To The Table, which humanizes both sides of the American political divide
  • A2Ethics, which hosts community events designed to illuminate moral issues in non-partisan ways
  • Living Room Conversations, which has been focused on creating events in California where people can civilly discuss issues concerning prison reform
  • The Nathan Cummings Foundation, with whom we hosted an explicitly cross-partisan dialogue
  • The Village Square, which hosts numerous events in the community designed to bring people together to discuss important issues without rancor

For these organizations, we have provided tactical advice on bridging moral divides, based on moral psychology research.  In most of these cases, we have also worked with these organizations to collect data (examples here, here, and here) as to how their work has impacted the people who attend their events.  The results of this data collection has been mixed in that in each case, we have found evidence for the positive effects that these organizations’ events have on attendees, but the difficulties in collecting the data at scale from relatively busy attendees, whether we tried technological or old-school methods, necessarily limited our sample sizes and therefore limits the breadth of conclusions we can make based on this data alone.  Still, we have published several studies based on this work online, with the idea that all evidence has value.

To further take advantage of what academics can learn from real-world practitioners, we have taken what we have learned from these organizations informally, and sought to formalize that process (see example here) so that we can more directly leverage these groups’ experiences.  The hope is that if the results of empirical work with these groups converges with the specific lessons that practitioners have learned intuitively in the everyday course of their work, then we can be even more confident that the methods used by these organizations should indeed be shared with a wider audience.

Ideally, the best evidence-based practices should be supported by both the experience of practitioners and more highly controlled studies done in academic labs.  Both to provide this convergence and to support our work advising organizations and the public, we have spent a lot of time in 2013-14 examining the existing research for the best recommendations that we could make to practitioners.  We also commissioned a study by Professor Jesse Graham at the University of Southern California, where he and his lab reviewed existing research and made their own independent recommendations.  One of the most encouraging signs for CivilPolitics’ path forward is that the results of this independent research were similar to our own findings and also matched what we found in talking with practitioners, and even what the data we collected from practitioners suggested.

Specifically, there are two recommendations that we feel especially confident about: improving personal relationships and emphasizing super-ordinate goals.  Both of these recommendations make intuitive sense to those who are caught up in moral conflicts, yet situations are often setup such that personal relationships across groups are made a secondary concern (e.g. politicians have less time to socialize with each other) and competition is emphasized (e.g. the permanent campaign).  We see a great opportunity in focusing on these two specific recommendations when communicating with both practitioners and the general public.

Early in 2014, we launched a newly designed website and over the course of the year saw a roughly 50% increase in site visitors from approximately ~2000 visitors per month to over 3000/month on average.  Our internet presence is well indexed by search engines, such that we are able to answer many formal and informal requests for information and ideas that can be used by anyone seeking to improve relations in their community.  Based on requests we have received for follow-up information, some number of these site visitors are journalists seeking information to share with others or educators seeking to make an impact in their classrooms, such that the extended impact of the information we provide goes beyond those who explicitly visit our internet presence.  Still, in 2015, we hope to expand our outreach, leveraging the fact that we are more confident in the specific recommendations to offer that have been shown to be evidence-based from numerous perspectives from both academia and the real-world.

Lastly, we continued to publish and support research in this domain at both the applied and basic levels.  Among the published articles we have published in top peer reviewed psychology journals include research showing how moral elevation can reduce prejudice, how cognitive style can illuminate ideological differences, how nature can lead to altruism, how values can shape foreign policy attitudes and how ideology can lead people to geographically separate.  We also commissioned research from graduate students at the University of Virginia to specifically test five separate ideas for improving intergroup relations.  Beyond the work we have directly led or supported, we have continued to maintain our primary research platform, yourmorals.org, which continues to reach hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and educate them as to moral psychology, with an eye toward greater understanding of those we disagree with.  It also collects data that has led to dozens of research publications that inform our understanding of our collective morality.  Building upon this success, we have sought to export this same model of education + data collection to the scientific understanding of religion (at exploringmyreligion.org) in collaboration with the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion at Boston University.

Finance and Administration

In 2013-14, Civil Politics incorporated and successfully applied for non-profit status as a 501c(3) charity under the US tax code, with contributions tax deductible.  We received approximately $70,000 in 2013-14 from The Village Square, Reid Hoffman and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, of which we spent $40,000 during this period, primarily on revamping our website, legal/administrative startup costs, technical costs to support YourMorals.org, and contracted research.  As of January 1, 2015, we have approximately $30,000 remaining and expect our budget for 2015 to be lower than 2013-14, given that some of our initial year expenses were one-time expenditures to set up technical and administrative systems.  We expect to be able to maintain our operations going forward with approximately the same level of resources while continuing to improve the ratio of dollars spent per person reached, keeping that well under the cost of a postage stamp, and also continuing to support more published research on evidence-based techniques for improving inter-group relations, whether on our site or in peer-reviewed journals.

Our Niche

In 2015, we would like to build upon what worked in 2013-14 and continue to leverage our unique positioning between academia and the public.  We still plan to offer measurement exercises for partner groups, but will also offer structured interviews that enable partners to share what they have learned systematically.   We will build upon the literature review that we completed in 2014 by finding and/or supporting research that will complement areas that need more research.  We will continue to leverage our platforms at YourMorals.org and CivilPolitics.org  to educate hundreds of thousands of people.  Now that we have more focused, well-supported recommendations to offer, we plan to leverage social media and the press more.  In summary, we plan to continue to spread what we already know about evidence-based methods for improving intergroup relations, while also continuing to support new research in areas where we ought to know more.

- Ravi Iyer
Executive Director

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Hack4Congress Identifies Tech Ideas to improve Cooperation

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

While there is a lot of research on many variables that increase inter-group civility, a large number of them can be grouped under the general category of improving cooperation/reducing competition (see lit review here).  As such, I was particularly interested to read about #Hack4Congress‘ work that attempted to find technological solutions to improve cooperation.  Among the winning ideas were 2 that specifically related to improving cooperation:

DICO is designed to allow other systems to access and incorporate the information provided by DICO to enhance other institutional processes of Congress through a central database.  Using DICO, a system can identify cross-partisan coalitions that are based on shared interest in particular issues.

The Dear Colleague website is an alternative to the eDear Colleague mailing system currently used by Members of Congress to request other members to co-sign letters, brief them on happenings on the Hill and send voting alerts. As opposed to the current system that functions primarily as a bulk mailing list, our website enables collaborative law making…

You can read more about the winners and contest here.  Social psychology teaches us that the mere desire to cooperate doesn’t always win out over situational barriers.  Improving cooperation may be a stated desire of both parties, but actual cooperation may require the creation of new tools that facilitate a cooperative environment, such as those identified in this project.

- Ravi Iyer

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Making Politics Less Personal

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

Recently, Thomas Edsall wrote an interesting essay in the New York Times covering work done by various academics, including Jonathan Haidt, who is one of the founders of Civil Politics.  In this article, Edsall suggests that:

The work of Iyengar, Talhelm and Haidt adds a new layer to the study of polarization. In seminal work, scholars like Nolan McCarty, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, political scientists at Princeton, Yale and Berkeley, respectively, have stressed the key role of external factors in deepening our political schism, including inequality, the nationalization of politics, immigration and the fast approaching moment when whites will no longer be in the majority.

There are many factors that contribute to polarization and certainly these political factors are part of the equation.  Yet the intuitionist view that we have found evidence for at Civil Politics, suggests that the reasons we see increasing personal polarization is less a result of political or economic factors and more at the level of the personal.  Indeed, such vitriol is not just found in politics, but also in completely artificial settings like sports.  These political factors can all be boiled down to a single personal factor, that also exists in the sports realm: group competition.  Given this, our view would be more in line with what Iyengar suggested to Edsall in the article:

In an email exchange, Iyengar speculated on a number of reasons for the increase in polarization:

Residential neighborhoods are politically homogeneous as are social media networks. I suspect this is one of the principal reasons for the significantly increased rate of same-party marriages. In 1965, a national survey of married couples showed around sixty-five percent agreement among couples. By 2010, the agreement rate was near 90 percent.

The result, according to Iyengar, is that “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

Competition, whether for racial equality or the NFL championship, is going to lead to personal negative feelings and without the balancing factor of other positive personal relations, you get the kind of intense dislike described in the article.  In that way, politics is a sport just like any other.

- Ravi Iyer

 

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Mashable mashes up Ranker Data on the Patriots vs. Seahawks

Reposted from this post on the Ranker Data Blog

Did you know that Patriots fans are far more likely to be fans of Pulp Fiction and The Departed on our Best Movies of All Time list?  Ranker knows millions of such facts (see our twitter account for more) and Mashable recently took a subset of those facts as related to the teams in the Super Bowl and presented them in this article.

mashable

– Ravi Iyer

The post Mashable mashes up Ranker Data on the Patriots vs. Seahawks appeared first on The Ranker.com Blog.

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Tracking Votes to Measure Changing Opinions

Reposted from this post on the Ranker Data Blog

A key part of any Ranker list are the votes are associated with each item, counting how often a user has given that item the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. These votes measure people’s opinions about politics, movies, celebrities, music, sports, and all of the other issues Ranker lists cover.

A natural question is how the opinions that votes measure relate to external assessments. As an example, we considered the The Most Dangerous Cities in America list. Forbes magazine lists the top 10 as Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, Baltimore, Stockton, Cleveland, and Buffalo.

The graph below show the proportion of up-votes, evolving over time up towards the end of last year, for all of the cities voted on by Ranker users. Eight of the Forbes’ list are included, and are highlighted. They are all in the top half of the worst cities in the list, and Detroit is correctly placed clearly as the overall worst city. Only Stockton and Buffalo, at positions 8 and 10 on the Forbes list, are missing. There is considerable agreement between the expert opinion from Forbes’ analysis, and the voting patterns of Ranker users.

MostDangerousCitiesAmerica

Because Ranker votes are recorded as they happen, they can potentially also track changes in people’s opinions. To test this possibility, we turned to a pop-culture topic that has generated a lot of votes. The Walking Dead is the most watched drama series telecast in basic cable history, with 17.3 million viewers tuning in to watch the season 5 premiere. With such a large fan base of zombie lovers and characters regularly dying left and right, there is a lot of interest in The Walking Dead Season 5 Death Pool list.

The figure below shows the pattern of change in the proportion of up-votes for the characters in this list, and highlights three people. For the first four seasons, Gareth had been one of the main antagonists and survivors on the show. His future as a survivor became unclear in an October 13th episode where Rick vowed to kill Gareth with a machete and Gareth, undeterred, simply laughed at the threat. Two episodes later on October 26th, Rick fulfilled his promise and killed Gareth using the machete While Gareth apparently did not take the threat seriously, the increase in up-votes for Gareth during this time makes it clear many viewers did.

WalkingDeadDeathPool

A second highlighted character, Gabriel, is a priest introduced in the latest season of the October 19th episode. Upon his arrival, Rick has already expressed his distrust in the priest and threatened that, if his own sins ends up hurting his family, it will be Gabriel who has to face the consequences. Since Rick is a man of many sins, the threat seems to be real. Ranker voters agree, as shown by the jump in up-votes around mid-October, coinciding with Gabriel’s arrival on the show.

The votes also sometimes tell us who has a good chance of surviving. Carol Peletier had been a mainstay in the season, but was kidnapped in the October 19th episode and did not appear in the following episode. She briefly appeared again in the subsequent episode, only to be rendered unconscious. Despite the ambiguity surrounding her survival, her proportion of up-votes decreased significantly, perhaps driven by her mention by another character, which provided a sort of “spoiler” hinting at survival.

While these two examples are just suggestive, the enormous number of votes made by Ranker uses, and the variety of topics they cover, makes the possibility of measuring opinions, and detecting and understanding change in opinions, an intriguing one. If there were a list of “Research uses for Ranker data”, we would give this item a clear thumbs up.

 

– Emily Liu and Michael Lee

The post Tracking Votes to Measure Changing Opinions appeared first on The Ranker.com Blog.

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Characteristics of people who are not annoyed by Bill O’Reilly

Reposted from this post on the Ranker Data Blog

On today’s The O’Reilly Factor (video below), Bill O’Reilly lamented the fact that he was only #10 on Ranker’s Most Annoying TV Hosts list and decided that he would make it his New Year’s Resolution to become the #1 most annoying person on our list. While I may not share O’Reilly’s politics, I like him as a person, even as he does annoy me from time to time, and would like to help him reach his goals. I enjoy working with the Ranker dataset as it lets me answer very specific questions, like whether people who think the show 24 is overrated are also convinced that George W. Bush was a terrible person—or, in this case, I can study the people who specifically disagree that O’Reilly is annoying, in the hopes that O’Reilly can find these people and work to annoy them more.


Who does O’Reilly need to work harder to annoy? From our opinion graph of 20+ million edges, (so named because we can connect not only vague “likes” or “interests,” but specifically whether someone thinks something is best, worst, hot, annoying, overrated, etc.), we have hundreds of specific opinions that characterize people who don’t find O’Reilly annoying. Here are a chosen few findings about these people:

People who are NOT annoyed by O’Reilly tend to…
– find liberals like Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher annoying.
– believe that John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart are among the Best Actors in Film History.
– enjoy movies like The Sound of Music and Toy Story.
– watch America’s Got Talent, Cops, Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, Home Improvement, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
– listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boston, and Elvis.
– enjoy comedians like Bob Hope, Jeff Foxworthy, Joan Rivers, and Billy Crystal.
– be attracted to  Carrie Underwood, Jessica Simpson, Brooklyn Decker, and Sarah Palin.

Thanks to big data, these audiences are all readily targetable online—and if O’Reilly really wants to annoy these people, he might want to study our biggest pet peeves list for ideas (e.g. chewing with his mouth open might work on TV). We hope this list will help O’Reilly with his ambitions for 2015, and please do reach out to us if you need more market research on how to annoy people more.

– Ravi Iyer

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The Opinion Graph Connections between 24, George W. Bush, Jack Bauer, and Rachel Maddow.

Reposted from this post on the Ranker Data Blog

As someone whose roots are in political psychology, I’m always interested in seeing how the Ranker dataset shows how our values are reflected in our entertainment choices.  We’ve seen many instances where politicians have cited 24 in the case for or against torture, but are politics reflected in attitudes toward 24 amongst the public?  Using data from users who have voted on multiple Ranker lists, including our lists polling for The Worst Person in History, the Greatest TV Characters of All-Time, the most Overrated TV shows and The Biggest Hollywood Douchebags, the clear answer is yes.

People who think George W. Bush is one of the worst people in history, also tend to think that 24 is one of the most overrated TV shows of all-time.

People who think Bush is a terrible person also think 24 is overrated.
People who think Bush is a terrible person also think 24 is overrated.

…and people who think Jack Bauer is one of the best TV Characters of All-Time also think that Rachel Maddow is one of Hollywood’s Biggest Douchebags.

maddowvsjackbauer
People who think Jack Bauer is a great TV character also think Rachel Maddow is a douchebag.

– Ravi Iyer

ps. …and these are just a few of the relationships between 24 and politicians in our opinion graph, which all tell the same basic story.

The post The Opinion Graph Connections between 24, George W. Bush, Jack Bauer, and Rachel Maddow. appeared first on The Ranker.com Blog.

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