Polarization is momentarily seen at higher rates than it was in the past few decades. In Europe as well as in the United States people are greatly divided on several issues ranging from immigration to socio-economic topics. A previous article talked about the role of facts and wondered why polarization and bias have not been defeated since they have become better available. It suggested that more consensus would be expected on issues since people cannot bypass facts. An experiment showed that this only caused people to flee away from facts. The question posed in this article is if polarization could be a consequence of the feeling free of facts.
An interesting experiment was conducted in order to asses if polarization would be less if people were led to believe that something is empirically testable. Researchers placed 179 participants randomly into either one of two groups. Both groups were about to rate Barack Obama’s performance as a President on five domains. The researchers reminded the first group that much of Obama’s policy performance was empirically testable; they did not remind the second group.
Results showed that the first group, that was reminded of empirical testability, reduced the average polarized assessments of Obama’s performance by 40%. The researchers suggested that this effect could be the result of people in the first group feeling less free from facts. The second group, that showed more polarized assessments, felt more free of facts and made more polarized assessments.
This experiment shows that when testable facts are part of the discussion, people cannot dig as deep into their beliefs as they wish to. When these testable facts are less part of the discussion, it is easier for them to cling onto their beliefs and, for example, view a politicians in a certain way.
The experiments, published in the, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that bias has an enormous effect and can only be treated by providing facts and especially good education. When you bring facts into the discussion, bias becomes less, but is still greatly present. However, facts can only do so much. According to social scientists, the best way to achieve immunity for the disease of bias is to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking and reject strict ideology. Bias can never be eradicated, but we can become a people more free of ideology and less free of facts.