NOVA: Modern Politics Activates the Brain’s Ancient Wiring

Dr. Emile Bruneau on NOVA | PBS:

Research on the biology of political beliefs provides insight into the effectiveness of how to win any argument. Current theories suggest that people’s political beliefs are driven by their identification with a group—similar to sports team loyalties, but more rooted in values, which makes them harder to change. Processing political thoughts may be a simple question of "Us versus Them."

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Collectively blaming groups for the actions of individuals can license vicarious retribution. Acts of terrorism by Muslim
extremists against innocents, and the spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes against innocent Muslims that follow, suggest that
reciprocal bouts of collective blame can spark cycles of violence. How can this cycle be short-circuited? After establishing a
link between collective blame of Muslims and anti-Muslim attitudes and behavior, we used an “interventions tournament” to
identify a successful intervention (among many that failed). The “winning” intervention reduced collective blame of Muslims
by highlighting hypocrisy in the ways individuals collectively blame Muslims—but not other groups (White Americans,
Christians)—for individual group members’ actions. After replicating the effect in an independent sample, we demonstrate
that a novel interactive activity that isolates the psychological mechanism amplifies the effectiveness of the collective blame
hypocrisy intervention and results in downstream reductions in anti-Muslim attitudes and anti-Muslim behavior.