13
Dec

Group Discussion Creating Understanding and Attenuating Conflicts? Think Twice

Written on December 13, 2011 by magdalena.wojcieszak in News

Societies and organizations are increasingly diverse. And sometimes diversity can create conflicts. On a macro scale, the relationship with the Basque country creates tensions in Spain and in the U.S. debates about immigration or religion in public life polarize the citizens (for an interesting illustration of ideological polarization in the blogosphere see here). On a micro-scale, conflicts emerge in public or corporate organizations, where CEOs and employees may face opposition when it comes to layoffs, merges or other decisions.

How might such conflicts be bridged?  Many see group discussions that expose participants to opposing views as a remedy. This is deliberation. It has emerged a hot issue in communications and is said to encourage tolerance, understanding, and contribute to social cohesion. Hence, practitioners organize such deliberations, hoping they will bring about beneficial effects in societies and organizations.

However, is promoting deliberation beneficial? Magdalena Wojcieszak, Academic Director of a new Masters Program in Political Communication at IE University addresses this question in an article titled Deliberation and Attitude Polarization, which was published in the last issue of a top communications journal – Journal of Communication. She shows that when strongly opinionated people encounter disagreement, they emerge from deliberation with polarized attitudes and are mobilized to take action against the opposing group. Her findings are based on a quasi-experiment during which structured and moderated groups discussed sexual minority rights (for parallel results among the American population and on a different issue see here). These findings suggest that moderated group discussions may sometimes backfire, exacerbating biases among strongly opinionated individuals and making them more extreme.

Avoiding such outcomes is thus the crucial task for researchers and practitioners. Any ideas as to how to approach this task are welcome!

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