Chapter 8 Summary

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Last Updated on October 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

Grant attempts to make the case that complexifying our discussions can yield improvements in how groups of people think. Chapter 8 is concerned with the reduction of polarization in public discourse. In a social lab run by Peter Coleman, participants with significantly conflicting views were paired up and then asked to read an article that framed an issue in a particular way. Afterward, they were asked to try to formulate a public statement that reflected both of their views. Articles that explored both sides of an issue were found to be fairly successful in producing these signed agreements. What was even more effective, however, were articles that refrained from dichotomizing public views on an issue, framing individual positions instead as composites of various closely related points of contention—ones that formed a continuum of different views that intergraded into each other. One hundred percent of the pairs that read this type of article were able to agree on a joint statement. They also asked more questions, generated more sophisticated positions, and expressed more satisfaction with the result.

One controversial issue where this polarization is markedly present is the public discourse around climate change, which tends to be highly politicized. Even when considered as a problem of educating and warning the public of its reality and dangers, the views represented in public media tend to be extremely polarized—scientists and experts versus deniers and skeptics. What such media coverage typically failed to represent were the different meaningful levels of belief and commitment between the two extremes. For example, there was a difference between someone who was completely dismissive of climate change and someone who felt disengaged from the issue. Within a binary, however, both of them were bracketed under the category of denial, which could lead to people flatly assuming that a larger proportion of people were in complete denial of the issue.

Expressing doubt and uncertainty is often seen as a self-undermining act. However, it might just be the opposite—by acknowledging the difficulties of establishing a comprehensive stance on any complex issue, and admitting how inconclusive and contingent much of the data we have is, we actually engage people’s curiosity better and teach them to be more inquisitive and more considerate of possibilities.

Similarly, people also like to believe that the quality of discussions degrades when participants become emotional. However, in Coleman’s lab, they observed the opposite: the more productive conversations were recorded to have more emotional changes and fluctuations, as well as much greater emotional range and variation. This, therefore, suggests that emotional involvement and responsiveness might have a positive effect on the resolution of conflict.

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