"Couples Therapy for a Divided America: Assessing the Effects of Reciprocal Group Reflection on Partisan Polarization" with Hannah Baron, Robert A. Blair, Donghyun Danny Choi, Laura Gamboa, Jessica Gottlieb, Amanda Lea Robinson, Steven C. Ronsenzweig, Megan M. Turnbull, and Emily A. West. Under Review.
Overcoming America’s deep partisan polarization poses a unique challenge: Americans must be able to disagree on policy while agreeing on more fundamental democratic principles. We study one model of depolarization—reciprocal group reflection—inspired by marital counseling and implemented by a non-governmental organization, Braver Angels. We randomly assigned undergraduates at four universities either to participate in a Braver Angels workshop or simply to complete three rounds of surveys. The workshops significantly reduced polarization according to explicit and implicit measures. They also increased participants’ willingness to donate to programs aimed at depolarizing political conversations. These effects are consistent across partisan groups, though some dissipate over time. Using qualitative data, and building on contact and deliberative theories, we argue that depolarization is especially effective when it includes both informational and emotional components, such that citizens who are moved to empathize with outgroup members become more likely to internalize new information about them.