the more you talk to people who think like you, the more radicalized you become

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If you can, have coffee with someone who sees the world differently than you. You will win and society will win. It sounds like truism advice, but it is —broadly speaking— the conclusion they have reached researchers of the University of Bonn, Germany. After analyzing hundreds of surveys, they have ended up with two clear ideas. First, that talking about politics with like-minded people leads us to take our positions to extremes. Second, that when we open ourselves up to dialogue with people with a contrary view, we become more tolerant. Eye, we do not change our minds; but we are more open.

The lesson not only serves us to improve as citizens, but also. Beyond our skin, from the strictly personal sphere, it has a clear reading in terms of society.

The effect of echo chambers. For a long time, sociologists and other researchers dedicated to the study of the media have been well aware of the phenomenon of “echo chambers”. Basically, they are equivalent to living in a kind of information bubble, a sounding board shielded from contrary ideas and in which everyone receives messages that expand and reinforce their own convictions. In the words of Professor Antonio Blanco, from the University of Oviedo, generate a “continuous and comforting echo” that reaffirms us in our vision. Even when it deals with seemingly rational issues such as investments or dealing with COVID-19.

The dynamic is very simple: you listen to what matches your vision of the world; you ignore everything that contradicts it. Is named confirmation bias. With the Internet and social networks that echo has gained strength until it became almost almost deafening and made the cameras even more solid. As White explains, we no longer even have to look for the message. We continue to do so, of course, choosing content and who we follow; but it is already the message that seeks us.

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Tell me who you talk to and I’ll tell you how polarized you are. With these clear ideas, the Bonn researchers raised some questions. How does chatting with people who think the same as us affect us? And the opposite, to what extent does it influence us to talk with people who look at politics from a different perspective? To clear up doubts, Sven Heuser, from the University of Bonn; and Lasse S. Stötzer, of the Briq Institutethey did an experiment: they focused on talks that took place in 2018 in under the Germany Talks program and favored people to be grouped into two types of couples: some of people related to each other and others discordant. Then they gave them a survey, they let them talk and they took a new test. 2,645 completed them.

What did you identify after analyzing the results? The first conclusion was that those who had chatted with people of the same rope had become even more polarized, tending to more entrenched positions. “We found that talking to a person with a similar political opinion leads to more extreme political views,” the researchers explain: “Taken together, the results suggest that in-person political conversations between like-minded individuals can increase the polarization of opinions and thus widen the gap between ideological groups.”

And what happens when you talk to people with opposite ideas? That, and what happened in the other cases, when two people of opposite opinions were brought together? The conclusion of the study is just as clear. The interlocutor did not change his position, that is to say, his political opinions had not changed substantially —neither in one direction nor in another, mind you: they had not softened, but certainly not radicalized either—; but there was an important change in another aspect: it had reduced its “affective polarization”their animosity or aversion towards those who think differently.

The authors of the study specify that, apparently, those individuals who had contrasted opposite ideas seemed to show less “negative attitudes” towards their rivals after dating. It may seem strange, but it is something that was not appreciated among couples with similar postures, in which the impact was not “significant”. Not only that. The research further shows that contacts with people of opposite mentalities had also reduced their stereotypes. Above all, his impression that those who think differently do so because they go less in depth was erased.

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Also beneficial for social cohesion. Those who had to listen to ideas that did not entirely match their own and were forced to contrast positions —come on, to get out of their peculiar echo chamber— not only ended up showing less aversion and hostility. They had also strengthened their “perception of social cohesion”—or what has come to be more or less the same thing, the degree of consensus and even the sense of belonging. Beyond the personal sphere, the data is relevant due to its clear interpretation in terms of society and community.

“It shows that talking to someone who has opposing political views reduces negative attitudes towards contrarian-minded people and improves the perception of social cohesion. Reducing barriers to communication with contrarians and facilitating interaction between different political camps can be an effective countermeasure against affective polarization,” points out the study, which encourages “combating this vicious circle of polarization” with initiatives such as the program My Country Talkswhich precisely facilitates the exchange of views.

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The “face to face”, a factor to take into account. The study leaves, or at least outlines, also some curious ideas. One of them is that the “face to face”, the opportunity to meet and chat in person, can be an important factor. As its authors recall, a previous job, from 2020, showed that “disconnecting” from Facebook —again the ghost of the echo chamber— helps to reduce ideological, but not affective, polarization; something that has been achieved in this experiment with real interviews, face to face with a flesh and blood interlocutor. The effect is similar to the one detected another 2021 study when people were exposed to news that squeaked with their own positions on Facebook: affective polarization was reduced, but not political opinions.

Salsa conversations last longer. Another significant fact is that, despite what one might think, conversations in which ideas are opposed last longer than those that only serve to reaffirm ourselves. During their research, the Bonn team discovered that those talks in which there was a disagreement, a confrontation of positions and opinions, lasted longer. Specifically, the interlocutors were half an hour more sitting at the table.

“Disagreement on a subject increases the probability of discussion and the duration of the meetings of the opponents by 30% (30 minutes) longer. Opposing partners argue about topics on which they disagree, but do not react to it adapting their own opinion”, they review. To encourage the exchange of ideas, the interviews were not supervised, moderated or guided. The topics of conversation were only raised around seven political keys and after a week a survey was sent. On average, the conversations lasted around 140 minutes.

Pictures | Shane Rounce (Unsplash) and Afif Kusuma (Unsplash)

If you can, have coffee with someone who sees the world differently than you. You will win and society will…

If you can, have coffee with someone who sees the world differently than you. You will win and society will…

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