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Culture & Religion

How We Imagine Our Way to a Better Political Discourse

When voters are asked to explain the policy positions they claim to support, the complexity of the issues naturally makes them soften of their positions, improving political discourse.

What’s the Latest Development?

When individuals are asked to explain the complex policy arguments behind their voting choicespolicies like ‘flat tax,’ ‘sanctions on Iran’ and ‘cap and trade’they become far less confident in their political leanings, say experimental psychologists from Brown and Harvard. The scientists recently ran experiments while examining this season’s barrage of negative campaign ads. They found that the strength of the ads lie in the logical leaps they take, making negative claims without following a clear logical chain. But when asked to explain the logic of such far out claims, people naturally became more skeptical of them. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Negative campaign ads take advantage of psychological phenomenon known as the ‘illusion of explanatory depth:’ “We typically feel that we understand how complex systems work even when our true understanding is superficial. And it is not until we are asked to explain how such a system works—whether it’s what’s involved in a trade deal with China or how a toilet flushes—that we realize how little we actually know.” Researchers don’t suggest we all become policy wonks, but simply imagine how political policies work in the real world. Acknowledging we know less than we think we know is a good first step toward a better national political discourse. 

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