Researchers look to technology to find out what’s increasing the country’s social and political divide

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Researchers are using computer modeling to help understand why there’s an accelerating trend toward social and political divisiveness. For more, we spoke to ASU computer scientist Joshua Daymude, who took part in the research.

What is your research saying so far?

“If people are similar they are more likely to interact… and if you interact with somebody who believes the same things as you or is similar to you you will get closer together in what you believe. But if you interact with someone who is really different from you, something you don’t agree with that might actually push you further apart. That is where we get the name for our model ‘the attraction-repulsion model’ based on the way people that move closer and further away.”

What does tolerance mean in terms of polarization?

“Tolerance really matters for what happens to the population. If you have a population that is really tolerant to a lot of ideas, they are going to attract to a lot of things, polarization doesn’t really happen.But when you get that stubborn intolerance, lots of repulsive interactions, that’s where you really see polarization take hold.”

Is it true that not all extremism makes polarization worse?

“When you have small extreme groups kind of way out on the ends, and then you have a moderate majority that moderate majority might look to either side and say, ‘Gosh, we don’t want to be like that. That’s repulsive to us. We don’t want to be like those extremists.’ That actually reinforces the moderates.”

What happens if there are no extremists? Does that push moderates out to the extremes?

“There are some situations where that can happen. But really the big deal is when those extreme groups get really large, and they start interacting with the moderates. That’s where the pushing comes from, and you start to see splintering from the majority of people.”

Does exposing yourself to the other side change your tolerance?

“You can try to do the right thing by exposing people to differences but there intolerance actually makes it worse… exposure by it self is not the answer.”



Joshua Daymude, PhD, Computer Science

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