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      Political polarization toned down through anonymous online chats

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 21 August, 2023 - 23:11 · 1 minute

    illustration of two phones with chat bubbles

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    Political polarization in the US has become a major issue, as Republicans and Democrats increasingly inhabit separate realities on topics as diverse as election results and infectious diseases. An actual separation seems to underly some of these differences, as members of the two parties tend to live in relatively homogeneous communities, cluster together on social media, and rely on completely different news sources.

    That's not a recipe for a functional society, and lots of work has gone into exploring the impact of polarization, as well as possible means of reducing it. Now, a team of researchers has tested whether social media can potentially help the situation by getting people with opposite political leanings talking to each other about controversial topics. While this significantly reduced polarization, it appeared to be more effective for Republican participants.

    Anonymity is key

    The researchers zeroed in on two concepts to design their approach. The first is the idea that simply getting people to communicate across the political divide might reduce the sense that at least some of their opponents aren't as extreme as they're often made out to be. The second is that anonymity would allow people to focus on the content of their discussion, rather than worrying about whether what they were saying could be traced back to them.

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      Study: People think undermining democracy is ok if others do it first

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 23 May, 2023 - 19:51 · 1 minute

    Image of a fractured US capital building, highlighted in red and blue.

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    Many Americans have been shocked by the frequency with which people who claim to love our democracy have supported blatantly undemocratic efforts to limit people's ability to vote or to selectively discard votes already cast. Unfortunately, this sort of democratic backsliding is far from a US-specific problem. Despite widespread support for democracy in countries like Venezuela and Hungary, people have turned out in large numbers to vote for autocrats.

    A new study performed in the US suggests at least one explanation for the problem: People across the political spectrum appear to believe their political opponents are likely to take anti-democratic action if given the opportunity. And the strength of this belief correlates with a slightly increased willingness to take those actions first.

    Nobody says they like this stuff

    The finding, from a University of California, Berkeley-Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaboration, is based on demographically representative survey populations, which were asked about several potential anti-democratic actions. For example, those surveyed were asked if they agreed with reducing the number of voting facilities in towns that support the opposing party. Similar questions got at things like banning rallies, limiting freedom of expression, ignoring court rulings, or resorting to violence. After being asked for their own opinions, people were then asked whether they thought their political opponents supported these anti-democratic approaches.

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      Rewarding accuracy gets people to spot more misinformation

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 10 March, 2023 - 23:22 · 1 minute

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    Piecing together why so many people are willing to share misinformation online is a major focus among behavioral scientists. It's easy to think partisanship is driving it all—people will simply share things that make their side look good or their opponents look bad. But the reality is a bit more complicated. Studies have indicated that many people don't seem to carefully evaluate links for accuracy, and that partisanship may be secondary to the rush of getting a lot of likes on social media . Given that, it's not clear what induces users to stop sharing things that a small bit of checking would show to be untrue.

    So, a team of researchers tried the obvious: We'll give you money if you stop and evaluate a story's accuracy. The work shows that small payments and even minimal rewards boost the accuracy of people's evaluation of stories. Nearly all that effect comes from people recognizing stories that don't favor their political stance as factually accurate. While the cash boosted the accuracy of conservatives more, they were so far behind liberals in judging accuracy that the gap remains substantial.

    Money for accuracy

    The basic outline of the new experiments is pretty simple: get a bunch of people, ask them about their political leanings, and then show them a bunch of headlines as they would appear on a social media site such as Facebook. The headlines were rated based on their accuracy (i.e., whether they were true or misinformation) and whether they would be more favorable to liberals or conservatives.

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      Breaks taken during psych experiments lower participants’ moods

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 28 February, 2023 - 22:45 · 1 minute

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    An unfortunate feature of science is that two experiments that are ostensibly looking at the same thing can produce different results. Often, the different results are greeted unhelpfully as the experimenters—and sometimes even the entire field—are accused of being garbage. A more helpful response is to consider whether the experiments, while looking at the same thing, might not be identical. And, if they're not, whether the differences between them might tell us something.

    A new study in Nature Human Behavior describes a subtle way some psychology experiments could differ: if they include breaks to let their participants avoid tiring out. Enforced breaks can cause people's moods to drop and continue dropping if the break drags on. And, since mood affects behavior in a variety of other psychological tests, this has the potential to have a complicating influence on a huge range of studies.

    Waiting is the hardest part

    The work began with an incredibly simple finding. Most studies operate under the assumption that a participant's mood remains relatively stable throughout an experiment. But the researchers here asked participants to rate their mood at the start and end of experiments—and thus at the start and end of breaks between the experiments. The researchers noticed that the mood went down pretty consistently over the course of the break. After a roughly 10-minute break, people assessed their mood as more than 20 percent lower than when the break started.

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      Investor overconfidence linked to selective memory

      John Timmer · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Sunday, 5 September, 2021 - 14:30 · 1 minute

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    There's extensive academic literature on the risks faced by investors who are overly confident of their ability to beat the market. They tend to trade more often, even if they're losing money doing so. They take on too much debt and don't diversify their holdings. When the market makes a sudden lurch, they tend to overreact to it. Yet, despite all that evidence, there's no hard data on what makes investors overconfident in the first place.

    With the cost of going wrong, you'd think that people who risk money in stocks would learn from their past mistakes. But a new study suggests that our memory's tendency to take an optimistic past gets in the way, with people inflating their gains and forgetting their losses.

    Selective memory

    The lack of real-world data is a bit surprising, considering there are a number of reasons to suspect a happy nostalgia might be involved here. There's previous research that shows college students remember their grades as being better than they actually were. Other research shows that people quickly forget their actual cholesterol levels and remember tests as indicating a healthier one.

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      It’s not enough to trust science on vaccines—others have to as well

      John Timmer · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 17 May, 2021 - 16:03

    Image of a woman receiving a vaccine.

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    Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was possible to believe that the US public's skepticism of scientific information had some limits. Once a crisis hit a critical point—when things became a matter of life and death—people would come around, the thinking went.

    Obviously, that hasn't been the case. The US public's skepticism toward science is extending toward one of its most important developments: vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines offer both the prospect of a return to normal life and limits on the risk of dangerous coronavirus variants evolving—but only if enough people are vaccinated. And that "but" is looming larger as states are having to experiment with various inducements to get more people to take the vaccine.

    Given this situation, any data that helps us understand why people might be hesitant to get vaccinated could be valuable. Some researchers have now found a hint that trust in science is more complicated than an individual belief. The societal consensus on trust in science matters, too.

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      What motivates the motivated reasoning of pro-Trump conspiracists?

      John Timmer · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 16 January, 2021 - 18:54 · 1 minute

    A white pickup truck is decorated in pro-Trump paraphernalia.

    Enlarge / January 7, 2021 - St. Paul, Minn. — Trump supporters gather at the Minnesota Governor's Residence after a "Storm The Capitol" event at the Minnesota State Capitol. (credit: Chad Davis / Flickr )

    Motivated reasoning is the idea that our mental processes often cause us to filter the evidence we accept based on whether it's consistent with what we want to believe. During these past few weeks, it has been on display in the United States on a truly grand scale. People are accepting context-free videos shared on social media over investigations performed by election officials. They're rejecting obvious evidence of President Donald Trump's historic unpopularity, while buying in to evidence-free conspiracies involving deceased Latin American dictators.

    If the evidence for motivated reasoning is obvious, however, it's a lot harder to figure out what's providing the motivation. It's not simply Republican identity, given that Trump adopted many policies that went against previous Republican orthodoxy. The frequent appearance of Confederate flags confirms some racism is involved, but that doesn't seem to explain it all. There's a long enough list of potential motivations to raise doubts as to whether a single one could possibly suffice.

    A recent paper in PNAS, however, provides a single explanation that incorporates a lot of the potential motivations. Called "hegemonic masculinity," it involves a world view that places males from the dominant cultural group as the focus of societal power. And survey data seems to back up the idea.

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