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Political Discontent

When are facts not facts?

When facts become part of identity, people will ignore them. Productive conversations can help.

When are facts not facts? In a talk to Re:publica in 2017 Lisa Charlotte Rost gives an example: When confronted with the photo of Obama’s inauguration from 2009 and Trump’s inauguration from 2017 and asked which photo had more people, lots of Trump supporters gave the wrong answer. They said that Trump’s inauguration hosted more people. Not because their perception was flawed. But because it was a way to show their support for Trump. It’s not truth vs lie, it’s their team vs the other team.

Correcting misperceptions isn’t enough to change behavior. One study found that successfully correcting the false belief that vaccines cause autism didn’t actually encourage some parents to vaccinate their children.

NYU psychology professor Van Bavel proposes that making people feel more secure in their individual identity may make people more open to accepting information they would otherwise reject. Psychologist P. Coleman studies how people who deeply disagree with each other can have productive conversations. Building up goodwill for each other and more positive interactions than negative, can lead people to have more complex, nuanced discussions.

Now, that’s something to aim for.