The Truth is Powerful

Why the middle is neglected in politics and other spectrums

IMAGE: One prediction from the researchers’ model is a bi-modal distribution for group 1, group 2, and in-betweeners. view more When people talk about the political spectrum, it’s often in reference to “opposite sides.” Whether the sides are “conservatives versus liberals,” “Republicans versus Democrats,” or “left versus right,” the center is rarely included — and can be actively excluded, according to Santa Fe Institute research published this week in the journal PLOS ONE .

In the paper, mathematician Vicky Chuqiao Yang,* sociologist Tamara van der Does,* and cognitive scientist Henrik Olsson* mathematically model how people categorize each other along a spectrum. The foundational hypothesis of their work comes from cognitive psychology and assumes that when people form categories it’s to tell each other apart as accurately as possible.

But remembering where everyone is on a continuum is challenging, so people use a shortcut of dividing everyone into two camps: “us” or “them.” And those within the same group want to agree about boundaries that separate “us” from “them.”

“The categorization makes it easier for people to think about things. We only have so much mental capacity,” explains Yang.

“We are trying to understand why we tend to create categories for things in our […]

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