How to Transcend Political Differences: Make Everyone Sit Still

Let’s talk about the mystery of political polarity. How intractable is it, really?

The U.S. has been famously divided into red and blue states, whose citizens vote Republican or Democrat and have little tolerance for the other side’s point of view. Many other nations are beset by similar polarities.

But recent research suggests that a “Just do it!” culture heightens this tendency. The psychologists William Hart and Dolores Albarracin conducted a series of experiments showing that when people’s minds are attuned to the idea of action, they become more close-minded.

Here’s a description of the first study, from Miller-McCune:

72 undergraduates were asked to consider the question of whether hate speech should be banned from college campuses. They read about a specific case and then expressed their preliminary position, knowing they would have the opportunity to read more information on the subject.

The students were then instructed to complete a simple word test during what they were told was a “brief break” from their experiment. All were presented 12 words with missing letters; they were asked to fill in the letters and complete the word.

For half the students, eight of the words were action-oriented, including “motivation,” “doing” and “active.” For the other half, eight connoted inaction, including “still,” “pause” and “calm.”

Participants were then asked how strongly they held their beliefs on the hate speech issue. Afterward, they were given a chance to consider new, relevant information, in the form of 12 thesis statements that either supported or opposed their viewpoint.

The researchers found the participants with action concepts on their minds held firmer beliefs and were more likely than the others to choose statements that were consistent with their own opinions. Those who completed the words connoting passivity were also prone to this bias but to a significantly lesser degree.

This is but one study of 72 undergraduates. But it’s an important clue because we live in a society that regards inactivity as a moral failing. Yet, if sitting still—that dreaded condition, passivity!—opens minds, then we could all use a little less action and a little more contemplation.

What do you think? Have you noticed any particular conditions that give you an open mind—or a closed one?

*The above post previously appeared on Susan Cain’s former blog, The Power of Introverts.