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We’re Reasonable, but Everyone Else Is an Extremist

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We’re Reasonable, but Everyone Else Is an Extremist

Evidence continues to mount for a fact of political life we all need to remember:

Most of us think our opinions are moderate and that people who don’t share our views are extremists.

Also, we believe our opinions are objective, based on facts, while those who have differing opinions are uninformed and biased, lacking a sense of nuance and ambiguity.

And it works both ways. People who disagree with us think we are biased, informed and more extreme than we really are.

‘Naïve Realism’

Sociologists and social psychologists attribute these distortions in our thinking to what they call “naïve realism” and “false polarization.” Naïve realism refers to the assumption that our own views reflect reality. Because we assume our views conform to the way the world really is, we also assume we are more certain that we are correct than are people who disagree with us. Of course, they make the same assumptions about us.

False polarization is the belief that our own views tend to be moderate and those of others are extreme. We assume, that is, greater divergence than the facts might warrant.

The latest studies to probe these strange forces that affect political discourse come from researchers at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and the University of California-Irvine.

MacEwan’s Craig Blatz says one possible implication of their research “is that expressing uncertainty or even being willing to reconsider some of our own opinions has the potential to lead to more pleasant conversations and even reduce conflict.”

It’s not clear, of course, how likely people are to do so when they are convinced that someone else is obviously in the wrong.

This much is certain. People these days are pretty sure they’re right, and others are wrong. It seems unlikely, the authors write, “that someone would vote, protest, or shut down a government unless they were certain in what they believed.”

Additional Resources

Parties Struggle with ‘Populist’ Uprising