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Zooming across the political divide


Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain Social psychologists at UCLA have done what seems impossible, at least on the internet: getting liberals and conservatives to have meaningful and congenial political discussions.

The trick? They held these conversations over Zoom, the video conferencing tool that the pandemic has made a household word.

The researchers discovered that most people, when asked to converse face-to-face without the anonymity and influence-chasing offered by social media and other online forums, instinctively connected with each other and found their interaction more pleasant than expected. Participants left with a greater appreciation for others’ views and felt less rigid in their own.

The results, published today in the journal PLOS ONE , suggest that Zoom conversations could help mitigate political polarization, with a few caveats. Whether or not people had an audience, for instance, had a significant influence on the amount of conflict involved in the exchange.

“Most studies about cross-ideological communication are either written retrospectively about past experiences or speculatively, but almost no one has looked at what happens when people actually have the conversation,” said UCLA psychology professor and study author Matthew Lieberman, who noted the difficulty of setting up political conversations under most other experimental conditions.

“To our knowledge, this is […]

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