Psychology of Social Connection

Are you in or are you out?

April 8th, 2022 · 23 Comments

Mitchell Saron (Hyper polarization between political parties)

 

For the past decade, it seems that Americans have become substantially more politically polarized. Unfortunately, as Americans continue to indulge in social media, they will absorb news and political discourse from applications like Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. These platforms are designed to feed users with the most polarizing content as it generates the most views and data. It is unclear how far this could divide our nation, but it has already damaged many familial relationships and friendships. In the past, friendships were not harmed due to the friction of political affiliation. Nowadays, Americans will not even consider a friendship with an individual of opposing political views.

 

What makes an individual align with a political party? Currently, political ties can be attributed to a person’s parents or guardians, friends, political outlets, and the invasive political messages within our current social media outlets. However, on the most basic level, a person’s political affiliation is contrived from their values. I think a lot of people would agree that a friendship, relationship, or marriage would not work with each party having opposing political views. With some relationships, I fully agree that not sharing a political party with a spouse can lead to an unsuccessful marriage. This is especially true when raising children with a partner as you want to both share the values that you want to bestow on your kids. Nevertheless, I think it is embarrassing that the current state of our political climate has made it taboo to have a friend with different views as yourself.

 

My home town has a history of being predominantly conservative, but in recent years it has become pretty split between Republican and Democratic affiliation. As a result, my high school classmates emulated this demographic as well. My friends from home have views across the political spectrum and it has never once affected the healthiness or longevity of a relationship. I think many people today consider members of the opposing political party as a threat to society, evil, or ignorant. Yet, this natural need for tribalism has been exacerbated by the media which has led to the demonizing of each political party from each side. In reality, people just have different values. For the most part, two people can like and enjoy each other’s company without having the exact same value system. These political labels merely create division that was not there in the first place.

 

In Buliga and MacInnis (2020), the authors yield that relationships between different political group members are usually characterized by “antipathy and avoidance.” In their study, they measured positive reactions such as hope of the relationship lasting, intentions to engage in friendship maintenance behaviors, and trust between members of the same and different political party. Specifically, there were four groups measured: in-group friend, potential in-group friend, out-group friend, and potential out-group friend. Ultimately, participants were most positive toward the established in-group friend, followed by potential in-group friend, then the established out-group friend, and finally the potential out-group friend. Therefore, people were more likely to be positive toward a person they had just met than an established friend due to differing political views.

 

I wonder how the results of this study would differ had it been conducted 20 years ago. From my point of view, it is very scary and sad that people would rather have better intentions toward a complete stranger than a recognized friend just due to a political label. Even my parents, who have been married for about 30 years, have always been on the opposite political spectrum. I grew up with my mother watching CNN in the living room while my Dad listened to Fox News in his office. Perhaps I am biased due to my upbringing, but I think there has to be a balance between natural tribalism and the hatred between our current political parties. It’s natural to enjoy friendships with those that share a similar value system, but there is no reason to bias ourselves into only having relationships with those that mimic our political creeds.

 

Anthony Nelson (Biases and Perception)

 

Are we all unconsciously biased? Is there a part of us deep down that just favors familiar things more?  The idea of in-groups and out-groups can help one understand why research has shown the answer to these questions is, yes. The most relevant way these biases can be explained would be by looking at our own country’s political divide. Especially in the past two presidential elections. In high school back in Florida it was clear to see peoples’ political alignments from their clothes, and accessories to how they interacted with people in our government class. It was truly interesting to see how affiliation to certain groups can be so apparent in school when the association is strong enough.

 

In the paper by L.M. Hackel et al (2014) it was said that they found evidence that showed social identity can exert a top-down influence on the threshold for perceiving minds. These findings indicate that group motivations can influence mind perception. I can support this claim because personally there have been many times when I have seen on social media platforms, media outlets, etc. where people berate, insult, and assume a person’s character based solely on their political alignments. Any day you can go on Twitter and find threads of people supporting logicless statements and assumptions or undermining scientifically proven facts simply because the person who posts is either also a democrat or a republican.

 

I can personally say I know individuals from home who take political alignments to the extreme and claim they can’t be friends with a person with another political alignment than themselves. These types of behaviors are a bit frightening because it is said social cognitive models of person perception suggest that in-group members are more motivationally relevant to perceivers, and are thus more likely to be individuated and processed in greater depth (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). This will lead to cycles of disputes if no one from the opposite group will not give the time of day to the other group. This is outside of simply politics because this same feeling of animosity toward an out-group has led to horrible outcomes in human history. Whether it be racism, sexism, genocide, or homophobia these like mentioned in the paper stem from the sentiment of in-group vs out-groups.

 

Buliga, E., & MacInnis, C. (2020). “How do you like them now?” Expected reactions upon discovering that a friend is a political out-group member. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(10-11), 2779-2801.

 

Fiske, S. T., & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum of impression formation, from

category-based to individuating processes: Influences of information and motivation

on attention and interpretation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social

psychology. , Vol. 23. (pp. 1 –74). : Academic Press.

Hackel, L. M., Looser, C. E., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2014). Group membership alters the threshold for mind perception: The role of social identity, collective identification, and intergroup threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 52, 15-23.

 

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23 responses so far ↓

  • Lane // Apr 9th 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Mitchell — fascinated to hear that your parents are opposites in the political spectrum and have been married for 30 years. Other than watching news in different rooms I’d love to know how they have navigated those opposing viewpoints throughout their marriage? Was politics something that just wasn’t discussed much or were they very open-minded in their conversations? And you mentioned you obviously had a unique perspective growing up in that household — what values and political beliefs ended up sticking most with you, and why do you think they did? I imagine it would have been challenging for you to develop your own views and stand by them given the split in your family. Do you think your friends and non-family factors influenced your political beliefs to a greater extent than others because your family had split political views?

  • Summer Cai // Apr 10th 2022 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks Mitchell and Anthony for an amazing blog post! This week’s discussion and your blog post made me wonder about political views really came from. Mitchell, I agree with you that most of our political identity comes from parents, guardians, friends, media outlets and political messaging. I grew up in a family that don’t really discuss politics at all. When I came in the US at 15, I found myself in a super liberal, 99% democrats school. Consequentially, I started identifying with the Democrats. The more I discussed politics and current events with my “liberal” friends, the more I “hated” the “conservatives”. Though when I express my opinions independently, I tend to be much more moderate. The 2016 and 2020 elections made me realize that I don’t want to hold such polarized views and most of my “political views” don’t even come from myself (and I don’t agree fully with them all the time). My views are also shifting a lot as I’m preparing to graduate this year and did my taxes for the first time, think about healthcare, housing, and being a citizen of society. I believe we are put into a political bucket way too early: only after becoming independent financially did I feel my political views began to consolidate and I felt they actually came from me. I really wish we can see a future with greater political participation without pushing people to identify with certain political groups prematurely.

  • Jessica Lee // Apr 10th 2022 at 2:10 pm

    Mitchell, thank you for sharing your thoughts on political polarization and some of your experiences in your home town and at home. I related a lot with what you said about political labels creating strong in-groups and out-groups. My home town is quite liberal, as was my high school. Expressing any other political affiliation or questioning majority views would result in heated arguments and social ostracism. In my home too, my parents occupied opposite ends of the political spectrum. My dad was also a consumer of Fox News, and I was frustrated with how polarizing the media was. I agree with you in that it is important to be critical about how our political creeds bias our relationships!

    Anthony, I found your blog post really informative! What you said about in-group members being more motivationally relevant to perceivers and thus more likely to be individuated reminded me of our class discussions regarding empathy and dehumanization a couple weeks ago. It is frightening to me, too, how easy it is for us to feel animosity towards the out-group and dehumanize others who have different political identities than ourselves.

  • Georgia Steigerwald // Apr 10th 2022 at 10:13 pm

    Thank you both! Mitchell–I really liked your point about political polarization. I am also from a “purple” area, but I always felt like there were stronger political divides (most of my friends and acquaintances had similar political leanings as me). Is there anything in particular that you have seen help or hinder relationships between people with different beliefs? My inclination is that trying to understand each other and think of each other as people/community members/friends first likely helps, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. Also, have you noticed a difference between generations and the way they approach ideological divides?

  • Patrick S // Apr 11th 2022 at 12:04 am

    Thank you Mitchell and Anthony for your post! Mitchell, I thought that your analysis of social groups in regards to political affiliation was very necessary, given the polarized climate of politics today. I’m interested to see if there is a “breaking point” of sorts, where the increased polarization we see now will change course, or whether polarization will only continue to increase. Anthony, I thought that the personal touch that you brought to the blog post was great, as it really emphasized how group affiliations can motivate negative behavior. I am curious as to what you think the solution to inter-group conflicts are, and at what point ideological differences are too strong to be overcome.

  • Jonathan Yuan // Apr 11th 2022 at 12:05 am

    Thank you Mitchell and Anthony for the great blog post! I think your reflections on political polarization and the influence of polarization on forming and maintaining relationships are really insightful. I think the question about how important shared values are to closeness and perception of mind are actually implications of polarization that I hadn’t considered too much before, but your examples really made these issues salient in my mind and reflect on my experiences having conversations or interactions with people of differing political beliefs. I have a lot of questions about how institutions like governing bodies or even social media platforms can address the growing polarization and encourage a more holistic and generous perception of others even with differing political beliefs, both domestically and in conflicts around the world. In any case, your reflections drawing attention to the ways these subconscious actions based on groups manifest in daily life have really encouraged me to think deeply about my own biases and reflect on how those influence the way I act and interact with others. Thanks again for the great blog post!

  • Stephanie // Apr 11th 2022 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks Mitchell and Anthony for your blog post! I found it very interesting to hear both of your opinions and perspectives on political preferences and how that can affect relationships. I agree with you Mitchell that people should be able to have friendships and relationships with people who are not in their same political party and it was interesting to see how it can be such a dividing factor in many relationships. Anthony I agree with you when you were talking about how frightening it is when people take their political preferences to an extreme and cannot connect with others. I like how you ended it by talking about in groups and out groups and the broader picture.

  • Andrea Liu // Apr 11th 2022 at 1:14 pm

    Mitchell and Anthony, this was a great read! It’s interesting to hear how this in-group, out-group dynamic with politics have shaped your own experience, and especially yours, Mitchell, given your parents’ stances. Personally, I’m from a relatively red area in Texas, but during my junior year, I moved to a very blue area in New Hampshire. It was crazy for me to hear how differently the 2016 election was received at both schools: at home, a lot of the swim team came decked out in Trump gear, while at my soon-to-be new school, classes were cancelled and people, including teachers, were crying about it. I’d be interested in learning more about how the 2016 election in particular helped draw a stark line between Democrat and Republican—as much as the the two parties were already divided, Trump himself was a divisive figure that people drew lines around. In that sense, is there a difference in how the psychology applies? Interesting questions to consider!

  • Michael Pankowski // Apr 11th 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Mitchell, I definitely agree that social media has worsened our political climate, and it’s anyone’s guess how much worse it will get. I think it will get worse, though, with TikTok’s algorithm perfectly curating people’s For You pages to show them exactly what they agree with, pushing them further and further in the direction of their initial political leanings. Moreover, this is started from such a young age now, with 12 year olds watching political content and thus having their political views influenced as early as middle and sometimes elementary school.

    Anthony, I think it’s interesting how you bring up how people will support or reject things just based on who’s saying it. I’ve seen this on social media, too — people seemingly believing what someone says just because they’re of the same political party. This is concerning for the future of information, as it becomes much harder to have everybody on the same page with facts if people are unwilling to believe that facts are real if they’re found by people of the opposite political party.

  • Spencer Carter // Apr 11th 2022 at 4:28 pm

    Anthony and Mitchell,

    I thought your post was really interesting! It’s amazing to me how important a person’s political affiliation is when others think about whether or not they want to be friends with that person. It made me wonder whether there are any other labels which have as great an impact on friendship choices. The only ones I could think of were age and speaking the same language (i.e. people may consider being a compatible age and speaking the same language as equally or more important in a friend than political affiliation).

    There may be other categories which are also as salient, but nevertheless, it is pretty remarkable that a chosen identity, such as political affiliation, could influence our perception of potential friends so easily. It can even supercede other markers of who would typically be considered an ingroup member. I guess this just highlights that we want to surround ourselves with people who share our values.

  • Kayla Edwards // Apr 11th 2022 at 6:34 pm

    I really enjoyed hearing about both of your experiences with political divide!

    Here is my take: while different political parties have different opinions and ideas about government and the economy, in recent years, politics have become much more than that. Lately, human rights (discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) have become wrapped up in politics. I have certain views within these categories that I truly could not imagine having a meaningful relationship with anyone who has opposing views. However, if people were more easily able to see human rights issues as human rights issues (and not entangle them with politics!), I really think that this whole political divide would be far less extreme.

  • Kara Xie // Apr 11th 2022 at 8:00 pm

    Your discussion of polarization of friend groups is interesting because I feel like it is the total opposite of the statement “opposites attract”. I believe similar-minded individuals attract and this “opposites attract” sentiment is just arbitrary and not true. Especially with the existence of social media, fake news is spread and further polarizes the groups. I believe this will be an even bigger problem in the future, as we are the first generation of social media users but there are surely more generations to come.

  • Tom Aicardi // Apr 11th 2022 at 8:54 pm

    Thank you Mitchell and Anthony for your thoughtful blog posts!
    I agree with Mitchell’s statement that our current political climate is very polarized and it seems as if people with opposing viewpoints do not interact or want to interact with each other. Social media definitely perpetuates this problem because once someone spends time looking at certain posts on instagram, twitter, or tiktok, they will only see posts that are similar and not opposing viewpoints. It is similar to how people will typically only watch the news channel that affiliates with their political alignment. This problem affects everyone, but I think it especially affects people our age and younger because of two reasons. 1. People our age and younger are more susceptible to media influences and 2. people in these age ranges spend more time on social media. This problem will likely only get worse as time goes on and social media becomes more prevalent.

  • Sierra Agarwal // Apr 11th 2022 at 9:43 pm

    Mitchell and Anthony, I really enjoyed reading this!

    Mitchell, your points about polarization between political parties raises a lot strong ideas. I really resonate with you about how it is “taboo to have a friend with different views as yourself.” Nowadays with individuals forming their political views at an earlier age than ever before, it is natural that they will gravitate towards others with the same views as them, making those groups even more polarized. To this point, however, I think it is important to say that just because you may have a friend with different beliefs than yours, it does not mean it is a good think or a bad thing, but rather, something to be hyper aware of. A lot of times I find that politics get brought up without intention, and knowing that there may be individuals with views different than yours is something to be aware of when this subject is brought to the conversation.

    Anthony, you points about how group motivations can influence mind perception made me think about how when I am unsure of how I feel or what to do, I look to my peers and the groups around me. In various scenarios and sectors of my life, I am surrounded by a group in one form or another, and knowing what the group is doing definitely contributes to what I do, how I feel and what I think.

    Great post!

  • Helena Jiang // Apr 11th 2022 at 10:07 pm

    Mitchell, you are incredibly right in pointing out the fact that political polarization has such a big effect on our relationships, and it’s becoming increasingly more prevalent as time goes on. It’s also incredibly interesting to see how your surroundings can affect how you think – the way your hometown has grown increasingly liberal, and your high school classmates have emulated this trend is a very interesting concept. Anthony, I agree it’s super interesting to see how so many beliefs can be deciphered based off of how you act, how you speak, how you dress, and so many other small things. As someone who is from Gainesville, Florida, I definitely see this occurring, and in a unique environment as well, since Gainesville is a college town and is often times quite liberal compared to the rest of Florida.

  • Patrick Walsh // Apr 11th 2022 at 10:12 pm

    Thank you both Anthony and Mitchell for your amazing blog posts. Mitchell – I think that you are completely correct that there is an increasing political divide in the country. I believe it has been exacerbated by social media platforms in recent years due to the fact that many people in younger generations go to these platforms to get most of their news and the information regarding politics is not always completely regulated to ensure all the information is correct. As you mentioned, the posts that get the most clicks and likes, thus generating the most revenue for the person posting, also tend to be the most polarizing posts. This could likely also have an impact on the increased polarization of American politics due to the fact that people are likely to only see the most polarizing posts on their side of the political spectrum. Do you think that greater regulation of these social media platforms could help reduce the increased separation we are seeing between political parties?

  • Olivia Zhang // Apr 11th 2022 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you Mitchell and Anthony. Both of you remark on how *scary* and sad the effects and factors of political polarization are nowadays. That a mere label could change one’s entire perception of a someone – from a neutral acquaintance, or even a familiar friend, to a sworn enemy – is ridiculous, terrifying, and very much something that happens all the time. Mitchell, your statement is so apt: “These political labels merely create division that was not there in the first place” — how much of political alignment and debate is contrived from the the mere usage and celebration/degradation of the labels (and immediate stereotypes) themselves? Also, both of your high school experiences are fascinating to understand. My hometown is a “blue city in a red state” and my high school definitely had people whose families settled on all parts of the political spectrum. There was no tradition or social norm of talking about political views in school, perhaps because we still had yet to form many, but there was a gradual shift to start these kinds of important conversations. If there’s one positive outcome of the extreme polarization of today, it’s that more people – young people – than ever are opening their eyes, ears, and mouths to these important topics.

  • Maya Dubin // Apr 12th 2022 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you Mitchell and Anthony for this reflection on hyper polarization between political parties. It was great to hear your personal insight and the connection to this week’s readings.

    Mitchell – I would be interested to discuss this statement you made more as a class: “on the most basic level, a person’s political affiliation is contrived from their values.” I think this is often thought to be the case and in fact may cause some issues between groups due to this very black and white outlook. For me, personally, I do not involve myself with politics much and find it irritating when people assume specific things about me when discussing politics. I think this notion of political affiliation being directly tied to our values has led to a great divide in the US and is not a productive outlook for how we should approach politics and listen to those with differing views. This is also why as you mentioned that “relationships between different political group members are usually characterized by “antipathy and avoidance.” This in and of itself is also very problematic as it is so important for human growth to learn about others and their perspectives and be open to differences.

    Anthony – I loved hearing about your own experience going to school in Florida and how it was clear to see people’s alignments from their clothes. This was extremely surprising to me being from New York where politics were often a taboo topic at my school. It’s fascinating to hear how politics can shape a person’s experience with the people they associate with and how a group can so heavily influence mind perception. I also have seen many people being insulted and bullied on social media platform’s for their political alignment which is quite upsetting considering that people should have the right to speak openly about their political opinions.

  • Sofie // Apr 12th 2022 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you Mitchell and Ant for your blog post!

    Ant – I really liked how you started your blog post with these two questions: Are we all unconsciously biased? Is there a part of us deep down that just favors familiar things more? These questions always remind me of the implicit bias test that our professor in social psychology made us do back in freshman year. I think these questions are also extremely relevant given the events in the last few years such as BLM and Asian hate movements. Favoring familiar things more has been extremely relevant in my life as well growing up in Shanghai. During COVID, I moved to Hong Kong where my parents had moved to and was surprised at how quickly I could call Hong Kong home vs. when I moved to Boston. One thing that I realized about my subconscious is that because I’m familiar with living in Asian countries where people are predominantly Asian, it’s more comfortable for me compared to the US. It’s taken me a while to realize this and also be comfortable saying it. But it also does make sense that if you grow up and spend your life somewhere where there are less white, black, and hispanic people, it is more difficult to perspective-take and understand those cultures.

  • Nia Fernandes // Apr 12th 2022 at 2:21 pm

    Great post Mitchell and Anthony! Your perspectives on political hyper polarization and biases helped me apply the readings to my own life.

    Mitchell, I especially related to your hometown anecdote of growing up in an area that was predominantly conservative. They say that the number one indicator of your political affiliation is simple: it’s the one of your parents. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia with immigrant parents and the values being taught in my home were not that different than those of my classmates, yet our families’ political affiliations were. When Donald Trump was elected President, I was scared but my high school celebrated. Moments of political discourse were not uncommon in my life growing up, but I would still describe the polarization as peaceful. It was only after the 2016 election that I saw shifts in my own community start to change. I wondered whether those values my neighbors and I shared were really the same. In the Buliga and MacInnis (2020) study, they stated that avoidance was one of the key reactions between different political groups, but I wonder how accurate these results are in terms of “gaining attention”. Since the 2016 election, the political climate in the nation has grown increasingly tense, yet I would not characterize different political groups as avoidant but rather intentionally doing things to gain attention by the opposing party. I often wonder whether an act would occur to the same degree if there wasn’t a two-party system in the United States.

    Would love to hear your opinions on this!

  • Gayoung Choi // Apr 12th 2022 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for a great blog post. Mitchell, a lot of our peers seem resonate with your comment about how families can shape our political views, but I can’t help but think about those who come from a family whose values don’t align with theirs. For instance, an ultra-conservative family can still breed a liberal son or daughter. I’m curious about how these exceptions come about, and whether this factor that leads people to “think for themselves” is something we can harness to create a better society– or is it even something we SHOULD harness?

  • Iris // Apr 12th 2022 at 4:15 pm

    Lots to think about here! Thanks all! I’m interested, among other things, in the relationship between “political alignments,” as an abstract construct, and the values or opinions which underly them. Because sorting based on political belief isn’t like sorting based on sports team preference, you know? Political orientations are shaped by the actual events happening concurrent with those orientations. So political polarization was at a distinct low 20-30 years ago, as this blog post notes, because the Cold War had just ended, and the entire world really *was* emotionally sympathetic to what some called a “unipolar model.” (Folks even wrote books about how history was over, and the liberal democracy had won. Project Desert Storm received national and international favor within precisely this context.) Conversely, the Civil War is the most polarized era of U.S. history—and I don’t think anyone today would claim that the glaring social problem pre-war was the polarization itself, and our failure to just get along. What I’m getting at is that polarization (or lack thereof, which can also be problematic—see modern-day Russia) is generally a symptom of a broader set of political circumstances. Often those circumstances reflect intense conflict such as war, changing social mores, or economic states; often, too, these circumstances are a matter of life or death for some, and thus a reasonable basis for determining friendships. In general, I believe that polarization itself is less of a problem than the political (and often bigoted) undercurrents which polarization captures. But there’s lots of nuance here! Thanks again for sharing.

  • Lake // Apr 12th 2022 at 10:38 pm

    Mitchell, I couldn’t agree more that our current time is quite taboo with having friends who have different views than yourself. Mentioning Buliga and MacInnis is a perfect example of how this affects friendships. I too came from a primarily conservative school but Austin as a whole is liberal. Different views have never affected the healthiness or longevity of these relationships as you mention. The media is very misinformative in the way they exaggerate news/stories, both political parties are in their respective echo chambers and amplifying this division by labels. Possibly eliminating politics from all of our relationships would be the best thing as everyone in democracy is entitled to their own view/opinion.

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