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T Strandberg, JA Olson, L Hall, A Woods and P Johansson
Abstract
American politics is becoming increasingly polarized, which biases decision-making and reduces open-minded debate. In two experiments, we demonstrate that despite this polarization, a simple manipulation can make people express and endorse less polarized views about competing political candidates. In Study 1, we approached 136 participants at the first 2016 presidential debate and on the streets of New York City. Participants completed a survey evaluating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on various personality traits; 72% gave responses favoring a single candidate. We then covertly manipulated their surveys so that the majority of their responses became moderate instead. Participants only noticed and corrected a few of these manipulations. When asked to explain their responses, 94% accepted the manipulated responses as their own and rationalized this neutral position accordingly, even though they reported more polarized views moments earlier. In Study 2, we replicated the experiment online with a more politically diverse sample of 498 participants. Both Clinton and Trump supporters showed nearly identical rates of acceptance and rationalization of their manipulated-to-neutral positions. These studies demonstrate how false feedback can powerfully shape the expression of political views. More generally, our findings reveal the potential for open-minded discussion even in a fundamentally divided political climate.
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