How to turn a wingnut (whether lefty or righty) into a moderate
Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein WRITES HERE of a fascinating study conducted by Philip Fernbach and a team of academics at the University of Colorado whereby political extremists are turned into comparative moderates:
Their central finding is that if you ask people to explain exactly why they think as they do, they discover how much they don’t know — and they become more humble and therefore more moderate.
The study came in four stages. First, people were asked to state their positions on a series of political issues, including a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, a national flat tax, merit-based pay for teachers and unilateral sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. They were asked to describe their position on a seven-point scale whose endpoints were “strongly in favor” and “strongly opposed.”
Second, people were asked to rate their degree of understanding of each issue on a seven-point scale. The third step was the crucial one; they were asked to “describe all the details you know about [for example, the impact of instituting a ‘cap and trade’ system for carbon emissions], going from the first step to the last, and providing the causal connection between the steps.” Fourth, people were asked to rerate their understanding on the seven-point scale and to restate their position on the relevant issue.
The results were stunning. On every issue, the result of requesting an explanation was to persuade people to give a lower rating of their own understanding — and to offer a more moderate view on each issue.