Politics and prejudice? Nope. It’s about ideology!
We’ve seen a number of studies lately that study links between political persuasion and our willingness to consider the perspective of those different than us. The current issue of The Jury Expert features research on how differing political orientation is related to our willingness to extend empathy. In short, we look out for people who agree with our views (including political), and act insensitively toward those who don’t. What is alarming in the current study is how far many are prone to taking this insensitivity. It’s an intriguing study for litigation advocates since our goal is to have jurors extend empathy for our case. The study published in The Jury Expert would say that is unlikely to happen without a nudge.
Can it possibly be that simple? Identify someone’s political affiliation and then automatically select or deselect for your jury?
Probably not. In fact, research just published would say it isn’t really about politics at all–it’s about ideology. Ideology is a term that refers to our world view.
And if I think you don’t see the world as I do–I have limited time (and empathy) for you. If I am conservative, for example, I have more consideration for fellow conservatives. If I am liberal, I see fellow liberals as more worthy.
So, these researchers wanted to see if your ideology (as reflected by either a liberal or a conservative outlook) would influence your attitudes toward someone quite different than you. Additionally, they wanted to see if there were simple ways to change that automatic reaction–even if only temporarily. So how did they investigate?
First, the researchers assessed the participant’s own orientation to determine who was liberal and who was conservative. Then, the researchers asked participants to rate the ideological position [i.e., the liberal or conservative orientation] of 34 different target groups. They were also asked to rate their own impressions of those different groups.
And sure enough, the impressions of the target group matched the participant ideology. If you were liberal, you didn’t think much of conservatives and vice-versa. But you reacted more positively to those that were like you. That is, conservatives were more likely than liberals to negatively react to a target group of African-American homosexuals (a seemingly liberal group).
Because the researchers wanted to see if the negative reaction was to the world-view (liberal or conservative) or to the difference in racial group or sexual orientation (African American or homosexual), they conducted follow-up studies.
In the followup studies, the researchers asked participants to examine six highly divisive political issues and descriptions of racially diverse targets for each issue. Essentially, the participants read brief scenarios of a hot-button political issue involving someone from a stigmatized target group (e.g., atheist, homosexual, African American, et cetera). Then, again, participants were asked for their impressions.
The researchers “manipulated construal level”–meaning they either gave research participants an abstract mind-set or a concrete mind-set via a pre-study exercise forcing either concrete or abstract thought. This one is more difficult to understand, but essentially the researchers asked the participants either ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions to induce the two conditions.
Those in the abstract construal condition were asked why they might maintain good health while those in the concrete construal condition were asked how they would maintain good health. [Asking how elicits specific and concrete strategies while asking why elicits broader and more abstract concepts.]
Then, the research participants were given the brief scenarios and the results are intriguing.
Neither liberals nor conservatives reacted negatively to the race of the target person. [So the negative reaction was not about race.]
But both liberal and conservative participants reacted strongly to the target’s political attributes. [So the negative reaction was about the target’s perceived liberal versus conservative orientation for both liberal and conservative participants.]
They also found that conservatives who were more abstract in mind-set were less negative toward highly stigmatized groups. [In other words, conservatives placed in a more abstract mindset, through the use of why questions, were less negatively reactive to those they saw as liberal and thus different than them.]
The researchers explain these results by saying that what we see as the link between conservatism and racism is likely inaccurate. Instead, they see the intolerance as being linked to ideology. Conservatives prefer conservatives and liberals prefer liberals.
They also suggest that this research shows it is possible to improve attitudes toward highly stigmatized groups at least temporarily among conservative persons. And this is all we need for trial: A temporary improvement of attitudes toward highly stigmatized groups.
So how do you “induce an abstract mindset amongst conservatives on your jury”? The researchers suggest a focus on “enduring concerns about justice and fairness” to induce an abstract mindset.
As is often the case, researchers use a different language than we do. Our term for their recommended focus is “universal values” and we recommend using those universal values to increase identification with, liking of and thus empathy for your client. In brief, make you client as much “like” the jurors as is possible. This research indicates that conservatives respond to this sort of strategy just like liberals–by reacting less negatively to traditionally stigmatized groups.
In short, when in a conservative venue with a highly stigmatized client, this research supports the idea of using universal values to elicit an abstract mindset which should then result in a temporary improvement of attitudes toward your client.
It’s certainly worth a try!
Luguri JB, Napier JL, & Dovidio JF (2012). Reconstruing intolerance: abstract thinking reduces conservatives’ prejudice against nonnormative groups. Psychological Science, 23 (7), 756-63 PMID: 22653799
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