This article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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The real roots of political polarization – and how to fix it

Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit demonstrators argue at Parliament Square as Parliament sits on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, to discuss Brexit in London Oct. 19, 2019.

Political polarization, it turns out, might not really be what we think it is. At a time of Brexit and impeachment, we think of polarization as growing from passionate viewpoints on political policies and personalities. But a recent study suggests it might grow as much from a lack of self-awareness.

Metacognition is a fancy word that touches on how well we can analyze our own thinking. Some people, for example, have a decent sense of when they are wrong, while others don’t. It’s that second group that is much more prone to extreme political thinking, according to the study by researchers at the University College London.

Basically, political extremism seems to be connected to a confidence out of whack with accurate views. Interestingly, even when those holding extreme political views were wrong – and were given more information to show they were wrong – they reiterated their confidence in their answer.

The good news is that the solution, research also shows, is a matter of simply pausing and paying more attention to how we think. In that way, the most polarized moment in our lifetimes is likely to be fixed not alone by changing policies or politicians but by changing thought to be more honest with ourselves.  

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This article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 01/15 edition