Posts Tagged ‘United States Congress’

APS Address on The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to Do About It

June 16, 2013

This is the Association for Psychological Science (APS) James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award address presented by Diane E. Halpern. Much of Halpern’s research has been on critical thinking. In this address she chose the term hyperpartisanship to describe the condition underlying the current gridlock in the U.S. Congress. She said that it was similar to apartheid in the old South African regime. There blacks were segregated from whites and had their own restrooms and other facilities. This situation also existed in the southern states in the United States before the passage of Civil Rights legislation. In today’s congress, the two parties do not mix. They have their own rooms and there is little grounds for informal interactions among the two parties. This is a relatively new phenomenon that is concurrent with gridlock.

Diane recommended eight specific actions that can be done to remedy the problem of hypertisanship. Understand that these proposals are not just for the politicians. They are also for us citizens, and for the press.

Step 1. Make friends, or at least acquaintances, with people of the opposite political persuasion.

Try to understand why they think as they do, and try, regardless of how fruitless it might be, to acquaint them with your modes of thought.

Step 2. Stay informed. Extend the effort to keep up to date and to understand the positions of others. So don’t restrict yourself just to sources that reinforce your own opinions.

Step 3. Keep a cooperation scorecard. Scorecards are kept for fidelity to conservative positions, and to liberal positions. I know of no scorecard on politicians who make an effort to compromise. Should any reader be aware of such a scorecard, please inform us by leaving a comment. It would be extremely beneficial if the news media kept such scorecards and presented them along with the news. Were this done, I imagine that the gridlock would quickly crumble.

Step 4. Reward evidence-based thinking. Constantly ask what is the evidence supporting an advocated political position. Civilization advanced slowly and regressed until the beginning of science based on evidence derived from research, that the civilization advanced rapidly. Prior to that, progress was restrained by ideology. Unfortunately, ideology still exists and provides the fundamental basis for gridlock.

Step 5. Check accuracy. Check the accuracy of the evidence. The Washington Post features a Fact Check Column. There is also a website, that is very good. But there are many facts to be checked. Readers are encouraged to present additional recommended sources for checking facts as comments to this post.

Step 6. Reject groupthink. Reward naysayers. Also reward flip-flopping. It indicates thought. I believe John Maynard Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

Step 7. Follow the money. It has been said that the United States has the best Congress money can buy. Unfortunately, this is true, and we must ask whether a given politician’s position has bee bought.

Step 8. Think critically. Given that so much of Halpern’s research has been on thinking critically, this step was clearly obligatory. The problem is that thinking is a System 2 exercise and requires effort. Ideologies are fundamentally System 1 processes that provide easy political positions.

If you have not done so, please read the healthymemory blog post, “A Mindful Politician.” Even if you have read it, you might want to reread it.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Successful Strategies for Compromise

November 25, 2012

Compromise is key to a wide range of human interactions, from a marriage between two individuals, to legislative bodies, to negotiations among nation states. A recent article1 summarized empirical research into effective strategies for successful compromises. One effective strategy is perspective-taking, that is seeing the world through another viewpoint. Another strategy is to try to empathize with the party with whom you are negotiating. 152 participants played the role of either the buyer or seller in the sale of a gas station. Prior to the negotiation half the buyers were told to focus on the feelings and emotions of the seller (the empathy group), whereas the other half were told to consider what the seller was thinking (the perspective-taking group). The deal was complicated because the buyer’s maximum allowed expenditure was less than the seller’s minimum acceptable sale price. The optimal agreement here was for the seller to accept a lower price for the station in exchange for future monetary considerations, such as a guarantee of employment for the seller. The perspective-takers were much more successful in striking a compromise. About 76 percent of this group reached the ideal solution compared with 54 percent of the empathizers. In another study over the terms of employment, perspective-takers were able to achieve strong outcomes for both sides, whereas empathizers produced deals that hurt their own interests. Other research has discovered that you need not be naturally fair-minded to consider the opposing viewpoint. Even gentle reminders about perspective-taking can be enough to lessen the problems of a selfish mindset.

Another study gathered a coed sample of participants for an experimental negotiation that simulated a divorce settlement. The goal was to determine an equitable distribution of nine items. Some of the participants were told to be egoistic and to work toward the best personal outcome. Half of these participants were also told to consider the other person’s perspective during the deal. The results indicated that egoistic participants who used the the perspective-taking strategy had fewer impasses and also ended up with higher quality group outcomes.

Optimism, anticipating a successful outcome to the negotiation, is also an important factor. One experimental negotiation involved Israeli participants and a Palistinian research confederate. The negotiation involved the funding allocation for a security fence between Israeli and Palestinian communities. Half the Israeli negotiators told just to do their best to reach an agreement. The other half were given the same instruction, but were also told that every other team of negotiators had been able to achieve a successful agreement. The Palestinian negotiator, a confederate of the experiments, made the same starting and counter offers to each Israeli negotiator. About 82 percent of the Israeli negotiators given the positive expectation were able to achieve a successful negotiation, whereas only 34 percent of the control group, the ones just told to reach an agreement, achieved a successful outcome.

Unfortunately, this effect of optimism does not bode well for the outcome of negotiations that have been going on for many years without success. But in any case, negotiators have to be motivated and be willing to compromise for negotiations to succeed.

The Congress in the United States has been at loggerheads for quite some time. If compromises are not made, there is the real risk that the country will fall off a financial cliff. Unfortunately, there are many members of congress who refuse to compromise and have signed pledges refusing to perform certain acts. These congressmen are anathema to a democracy. All legislators need to compromise otherwise democratic governments collapse. The public blames congress, although it is the public that ultimately is to blame, either for not voting or for voting for candidates who do not compromise.

1Jaffe, E. (2012). Give and Take: Empirical Strategies for Compromise. Obsewrver, October 2012, 25,8, pp. 9-11.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.