Polarization Library

Polarization Library


In order to help spur dialogue and awareness of Polarization, its effects, and related research, we are developing an interactive online space for individuals who are intrigued and/or challenged by questions regarding polarization to learn and share insights on this topic.


We will be listing interesting and challenging articles related to polarization that we have come across in our project and plan on providing brief summaries of each article and the questions they raise.


Empathy and Polarization

Us and them intergroup failures of empathy. Cikara, M., Bruneau, E. G., & Saxe, R. R. (2011).  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(3), 149-153.

This paper is a study of the limits of empathy for out-group members as a means of better understanding how to promote empathy in such cases. Social boundaries and group membership diminish empathy, motivation to help, and resolve conflict. In such cases, Schadenfreude is a common and dangerous alternative to empathy. Paradoxically, increases in empathy for in-group members may also correspond to increases in Schadenfreude for (perceived) threatening out-group members.  This study leaves open whether it’s possible, and how to, promote empathy as opposed to Schadenfreude in such cases.

Addressing the empathy deficit: beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging. Schumann, K., Zaki, J., & Dweck, C. S. (2014).  Journal of personality and social psychology, 107(3), 475.

Empathy is often thought to occur automatically. Yet, empathy frequently breaks down when it is difficult or distressing to relate to people in need, suggesting that empathy is often not felt reflexively. Indeed, the United States as a whole is said to be displaying an empathy deficit. When and why does empathy break down, and what predicts whether people will exert effort to experience empathy in challenging contexts? Together, data from this study suggest that people’s mindsets powerfully affect whether they exert effort to empathize when it is needed most, and these data may represent a point of leverage in increasing empathic behaviors on a broad scale.

Perceived perspective taking: When others walk in our shoes. Goldstein, N. J., Vezich, I. S., & Shapiro, J. R. (2014).  Journal of personality and social psychology, 106(6), 941.

A great deal of psychological research has investigated the influence of perspective taking on individuals, indicating that perspective taking increases the extent to which people like, feel a sense of self–other overlap with, and help those whose perspective they take. However, previous investigations of the topic have been limited to the study of the perspective taker, rather than the individual whose perspective has been taken. The purpose of the current work is to begin to fill this large gap in the literature by examining the consequences of believing that another individual is taking one’s perspective, a phenomenon we refer to as perceived perspective taking. Data from this study suggest that believing that another person has successfully taken one’s perspective results in an increased liking for, a greater sense of self–other overlap with, and more help provided to that person. Consistent with predictions, this study also finds that one’s self–other overlap with the perspective taker and the amount of empathy one perceives the perspective taker to feel operate in tandem to mediate the link between perceived perspective taking and liking for the perspective taker

Racism, gun ownership and gun control: Biased attitudes in US whites may influence policy decisions. O’Brien, K., Forrest, W., Lynott, D., & Daly, M. (2013).PloS one, 8(10), e77552.

Racism is related to policies preferences and behaviors that adversely affect blacks and appear related to a fear of blacks (e.g., increased policing, death penalty). This study examined whether racism is also related to gun ownership and opposition to gun controls in US whites. Symbolic racism was related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in US whites. The findings help explain US whites’ paradoxical attitudes towards gun ownership and gun control. Such attitudes may adversely influence US gun control policy debates and decisions.
Ethnocentrism as a short‐term force in the 2008 American presidential election. Kam, C. D., & Kinder, D. R. (2012).  American Journal of Political Science, 56(2), 326-340.

Faced with a choice between John McCain and Barack Obama, voters in 2008 were swayed by the familiar play of factors—party identification, policy preferences, and economic conditions—but also, we find, by ethnocentrism, a deep-seated psychological predisposition that partitions the world into ingroups and outgroups—into “us” and “them.” The effect of ethnocentrism was significant and substantial, and it appeared over and above the effects due to partisanship, economic conditions, policy stances, political engagement, and several varieties of conservatism. Two features of Obama were primarily responsible for triggering ethnocentrism in 2008: his race and his imagined Muslim faith. As such, we demonstrate that ethnocentrism was much more important in 2008 than in the four presidential elections immediately preceding 2008, and we show that it was much more important in the actual contest between Senator McCain and Senator Obama than in a hypothetical contest between Senator McCain and Senator Clinton.

Dog Whistle Politics. Lopez, I. H. (2014).  Oxford University Press.

In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López offers a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests. Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives. The tactic continues at full force, with the Republican Party using racial provocations to drum up enthusiasm for weakening unions and public pensions, defunding public schools, and opposing health care reform.