Now Matt Nisbet reminds me why an isolated group — such as the pro-vaccine movement, or the anti-vaccine movement — will move toward extreme rhetoric:
Analyzing data from a national panel survey conducted between 2002 and 2005, graduate student Andrew Binder and his collaborators find that after controlling for demographics and news use, like-minded discussion pushed respondents’ position on stem cell research to the extreme ends of the distribution, either towards strong support or strong opposition.
Remember the insanity heard at some of the McCain-Palin rallies? Same kind of deal.
To explain how conflicts can escalate even from mild rhetoric, look to Sci Am Mind, where we learn that in a behavioral economics context (games played for money), “we retaliate against selfishness more than we reward generosity—even when the slights are only illusory.”
One group of dictators started with $100 and gave a portion to the second player; the other group of dictators started with no money but took part of $100 from their partner. Later, when participants rated the dictators’ generosity, they judged the taking group inordinately more harshly than the giving group. […] Furthermore, takers do not realize how greedy they appear to those on the receiving end.
These skewed judgments led to increasing selfishness with each interaction: when participants switched roles, the new dictators responded to seemingly greedy splits with less generosity themselves, the pattern continuing with each subsequent role reversal.
I imagine the same applies to rhetorical selfishness and generosity, where the currency being thrown around is self-respect.
All the more reason to bring everyone to the same table, as James noted in pointing out the work of one Roger Bernier, CDC scientist.
Roger Bernier, 61, an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), witnessed first hand the deep lack of trust between some citizens and government at a 2001 congressional hearing on vaccinations and the controversy surrounding vaccines and autism. A citizen’s comment–“Your CDC research is dead on arrival”–served as a wake up call to Bernier. […] Bernier’s solution was to attempt to build trust by bringing together citizens and government officials with diverse views to work jointly on developing and analyzing public health policy choices. In 2003 Bernier worked with the Keystone Center in Keystone Colorado to convene a diverse group of citizens and professionals to design a new public engagement model called the Vaccine Policy Analysis CollaborativE (VPACE).
So where is the Keystone approach in the Jenny McCarthy meltdown? I might have to — gasp! — make a phone call or two. I know, I know. Calm down. It’s still a blog.