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Why Changing Political Views is so Hard

There are two kinds of people in America, those who voted in the November 2016 election (almost 130 million) and those who didn’t.

It’s the same story every election cycle. Certain demographics get out and vote, certain ones typically don’t, and a lot of time has been spent studying the psychological, economical and environmental differences between these two groups.

For all their differences, we know for sure that regardless of whether an individual voted or not just about everyone has strong political values and opinions (many of them pessimistic, curiously). And for most people, those beliefs seem like they’re really, really hard to change.

But are political views harder to change than other beliefs?

Research on Political Beliefs

Researchers at the University of Southern California performed and published a study in December 2016. They gathered 40 people with strong political views – “liberals of deep conviction” according to the study, and then measured these peoples’ brain activity while they engaged in arguments that didn’t align with their beliefs.

It wasn’t just political beliefs, however. These individuals were shown a statement that they agreed with, followed by five counterarguments contesting that statement, and then they were shown the statement one more time. Based on the brain activity, researchers could discern how vigorously individuals would defend each belief.

After analyzing the data, researchers discovered that political views were significantly harder to change than other types of opinions.

For many, these topics create the cornerstone of a person’s character and self-worth. It becomes part of an individual’s identity.

Politics are a sensitive topic because of something called cultural cognition.

Cultural cognition dictates that people form opinions to match the groups with which we identify most strongly. People crave group acceptance, group strength and group dominance. It’s primal, a holdover from pre-society: when a person’s selected group is stronger, his or her survival chances increase.

Politics happens to be a pillar of modern culture, and therefore, one of the strongest connections people have to their groups. It’s a direct line to the cultural cognition that kept our ancestors alive.

Talking About Politics

Talking about politics is hard, so hard, that it’s an infamously taboo topic to bring up at social events. But, if it’s communicated effectively, it doesn’t have to be.

Psychology is the study of the mind, but it’s also the study of behavior. Many times, when a well-meaning individual accidentally incites an argument about politics, it’s has little to do with a difference in beliefs and more to do with the behavior exhibited in the conversation.

Here are a few rules that will help clear up those political arguments almost instantly.

  • Understand that communication is an engagement between a Sender (talker) and a Receiver (listener).
  • When you’re Sending a message in a conversation, be empathetic to your Receiver. Use words and actions that the Receiver can clearly understand. Many arguments start because of misunderstandings or confusion, and this small adjustment is the most effective way to maximize clarity in a discussion.
  • When you’re Receiving a message, don’t hurry to immediately interpret everything you hear. Instead, check in for understanding by rephrasing the Sender’s statement and asking for confirmation. “I just want to clarify. You’re telling me. …”

Political discussion is about exchanging thoughts, ideas and aspirations. Take the time to communicate effectively and listen closely, and it can be an enriching experience instead of a contentious one.

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