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Tricks to moderate peoples' behaviour

Monday November 12, 2012 10:09:25 AM, IANS

Washington: There's a little understood way to influence people and make them feel greater empathy -- just slow down their responses by getting them to struggle a little with the manner in which they receive information.

That's the finding of researchers at the University of Illinois.

Liberals and conservatives who don't see eye to eye seem to mellow down while reading arguments in a difficult-to-read font, suggests the new finding.

Similarly, people with a bias for or against a defendant in a mock trial are less likely to act on the bias if they have to struggle to read the evidence against him, says Jesse Preston, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, who conducted the study with graduate student Ivan Hernandez.

The new research is one of two studies to show that subtle manipulations that affect how people take in information can reduce political polarisation, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports.

By asking participants to read an overtly political argument about capital punishment in a challenging font, researchers sought to disrupt participants' usual attitudes to the subject, says Hernandez, according to an Illinois statement.

Liberals and conservatives who read the argument in an easy-to-read font were much more polarised on the subject than those who had to slog through the difficult version.

In a separate experiment, people were shown documents that praised or criticized the behaviour of a defendant in a mock trial before they saw the (rather sketchy) evidence against him.

As expected, those who read an unflattering account of the defendant's character were much more likely to convict him than those who read a more complimentary report. The two sides were far apart on their assessment of the evidence.

"But when people read a difficult-to-read summary of the evidence, then they became more moderate. We showed that if we can slow people down, if we can make them stop relying on their gut reaction... it can make them more moderate; it can have them start doubting their initial beliefs and start seeing the other side of the argument a little bit more," Hernandez said.




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