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To Reduce Political Tensions, Focus on Facts

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Problem

Negative emotions feed intolerance, which can harm relations between groups.

Solution

Taking a detached perspective dampens bad feelings and increases tolerance for the other side.

The Details

Political psychologist Eran Halperin and his colleagues asked 161 Israeli college students to to read an article about the Arab minority in Israel. The article was designed to cause negative emotions. Half of the students were randomly assigned to the reappraisal condition, in which they were instructed to take a neutral, objective, detached perspective as they read the article. The other half of the students were randomly assigned to a control condition, in which they were instructed to acknowledge and fully experience their emotions. Next, all participants completed measures of negative emotions and political intolerance.

Results showed that right-wing students in the reappraisal condition had less negative emotions than did right-wing students in the control condition. Moreover, having less negative emotions drove greater political tolerance. In a second study, Halperin and colleagues likewise showed that the reappraisal technique increases support for democratic principles, which also in turn dampens political intolerance.

Why This Works

When people focus on facts, rather than on feelings, they develop a calmer and broader understanding of a conflict. This more balanced perspective, in turn, reduces intolerance for the other side.

When This Works Best

Reappraisal is most effective for people who, when not upset, value tolerance and endorse democratic principles like free speech and voting rights for all.

Try It Yourself

SPARQTools: Peaceful Politics

Original Study

Halperin, E., Pliskin, R., Saguy, T., Liberman, V., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation and the cultivation of political tolerance: Searching for a new track for intervention. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 58(6), 1110-1138.

Credits

Photo via Prachaya Roekdeethaweesab/Shutterstock.com