Tuesday, August 8, 2006

This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on Partisanship. Any Questions?

We're sure some people are already filing this under "why don't you just give up and go home, already?"
The Washington Post has a story this week describing how the brains of political partisans may work differently
than others, rejecting information that might contradict their views.

Well, in our experience people certainly do tend to reject information they don't like. And if you've
ever walked away from an argument muttering "there's just no talking to some people," you'd be inclined to agree.

But even as legions of blogs use this story to explain why the U.S. seems split into warring camps, we'd
like to make the case that biology is not destiny, at least in this case. If it were, then people would
never change their minds about anything. And while the so-called Red/Blue partisan divide is a major
factor in public opinion these days, people do change their views, even on highly emotional issues like Iraq,
immigration, or race relations. (For a long-term view of how deeply entrenched attitudes can change over time,
check out our civil rights feature, Snapshots in Time).

Public Agenda has learned, through 30 years of running public engagement projects, that people will consider
contradictory information and other points of view, if it's presented in the right way. If all views are getting
a fair hearing, if both the pros and cons of a course of action are laid out honestly, if people feel they
can be heard, then people are willing to listen. They may not change their minds, but they at least hear what
others are saying and test their preconceptions. If people weren't willing to listen,public engagement
wouldn't work at all. And we've got the experiences to prove that it does work.

The sad thing is that our current media-and-political climate does almost nothing to promote that kind of discussion.
And that's a shame, because the American people deserve better.

Read The Washington Post story:

Find out more about our Public Engagement work and the technique of Citizen Choicework:

Find out more Behind the Headlines:

Public Agenda
6 East 39th Street
9th Floor
New York, NY 10016

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