Study may offer explanation for why people get into such furious rows on Twitter

Survey finds people are more likely to agree with an argument if they hear it rather than read it

Caroline Mortimer@cjmortimer
Sunday 10 December 2017 11:23
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People are more likely to humanise their opponent if they listen directly to them rather than having a text-based debate on social media
People are more likely to humanise their opponent if they listen directly to them rather than having a text-based debate on social media

If you are wondering why your friends and family just don’t understand where you are coming from with your reasoned political argument on Facebook, it may be worth asking them to listen – literally.

A new study has suggested the key to winning people over to your side of the argument may be verbal rather than written.

In a paper published in the journal Psychological Science, scientists at University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago found people who had verbal debates about various political issues were more likely to be persuaded by their opponents argument than those who simply read them.

For the survey 300 people were asked to watch, listen or read arguments about war, abortion and different genres of music then were asked to judge how well the person communicated the argument.

The scientists said they found those who disagreed with the argument tended to “dehumanise” the communicator and regarded “having a diminished capacity to either think or feel” but this happened far less frequently when you hear their voice or see them speak.

Juliana Schroeder from Berkeley said this is because communicating through voice makes the person speaking seem more reasonable and human.

She told The Washington Post: “One of us read a speech excerpt that was printed in a newspaper from a politician with whom he strongly disagreed.

“The next week, he heard the exact same speech clip playing on a radio station. He was shocked by how different his reaction was toward the politician when he read the excerpt compared to when he heard it. When he read the statement, the politician seemed idiotic, but when he heard it spoken, the politician actually sounded reasonable.”

In the report, the authors said: “When two people hold different beliefs, there is a tendency not only to recognise a difference of opinion but also to denigrate the mind of one’s opposition.

“Because another person’s mind cannot be experienced directly, its quality must be inferred from indirect cues.”

Dr Schroeder said she hopes the study might help explain why social media has had such a polarising effect on political debate in recent years.

She said: “Many people receive the majority of their news from social media​ now. This can be dehumanising, and may increase polarisation. It’s easy to imagine how this could become cyclical; dehumanisation leading to more polarisation leading to more dehumanisation.”

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