On Sunday, Politico published an enlightening article by Hope College psychology professor David Myers on the divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims. In the article Myers provides four points to help explain why people who share so many things in common are such enemies.
Myers also briefly illustrated his point with the historic Northern Ireland conflict between Protestants and Catholics. It occurred to me that on a lesser level, we see these conflicts arise all of time within Christianity. Charismatics and non-charismatics, Calvinists and Arminians, and so on share many points of agreement but war over the fewer differences. Myers article is well worth reading; his four basic points are:
1) No matter our similarities with others, our attention focuses on differences.
2) We naturally divide our worlds into “us” and “them,” ingroup and outgroup.
3) Discussion among those of like mind often produces “group polarization.”
4) Group solidarity soars when facing a common enemy.
Number three is a point which concerns me most about noticing differences. Such polarization can become especially hot if people fail to talk to those in the other camp. I see no problem with freedom of expression as long as we make sure everybody has it. We need to talk to each other rather than cloister and polarize further. Myers expresses it this way:
Turning today’s closed fists into tomorrow’s open arms requires recognizing the relative modesty of our differences, finding our deeper commonalities, defining a larger “us,” communicating across group lines and discovering transcendent goals.
Myers & DeWall Talk Psych is a new psychology blog that I will visit regularly. In my view, David Myers is the premier social psychology educator in the nation and Dewall has done important work in the field as well. Anything Myers touches is of high quality and I suspect this will become a popular site for students and professors alike.
The first post by Nathan DeWall examines the concept of wealth addiction. It is not really an addiction but pretty important to people when they want what they perceive money can buy.
I wish them well and anticipate many helpful contributions.
The Wall Street Journal invited Hope College social psychologist David Myers to write a column regarding the APA task force report on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation. Dr. Myers is the author of several books, including the text I use in teaching the social psychology class at GCC. I highly recommend the text, as well as his book on Happiness.
Here is a taste of the article:
Applause for the APA’s sensitivity to religious diversity has come from previously opposing sides within evangelicalism. Psychotherapist Ralph Blair, the founder of Evangelicals Concerned, the gay-supporting “national network of gay and lesbian evangelical Christians and friends,” welcomes APA’s “clear rejection of ‘reparative therapy.’?” But he also welcomes its openness to supporting homosexual people “who nonetheless think that it’s wrong for them to act on their same-sex desires.” Grove City College psychologist-blogger Warren Throckmorton, who supports those who want to control same-sex attractions and reject a gay identity, sees hope for “a larger middle and smaller numbers of people at the opinion extremes. People on both sides, he says, “can agree that erotic responsiveness is extremely durable.”
That last line you read here first.
Dr. Myers takes a pro-gay marriage position in this piece which will not set well with social conservatives, but I do think he is correct about the increasing number of issues where some common ground can be found.
I think Myers makes a good observation picking up on Focus on the Family’s language, “the aim is ‘to steward their impulses in a way that aligns with their faith convictions.’” This is the kind of language which reflects the congruence model and which I see more and more from Focus and Exodus.
Confirmation bias – A tendency to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions.
– David Myers, Social Psychology, 8th Ed., pg. 112.
Confirmation bias – connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.
– Raymond Nickerson, Review of General Psychology, 1998
No doubt all sides of recent political and public policy issues will accuse each other of engaging in confirmation bias. However, let’s see how many examples we can find. I may be adding more to this post as time permits.