Study: Healthy Political Debate Makes People Think Harder, Strengthens Resolve

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — Perhaps debating with others really is healthy, particularly in today’s divisive political climate. A new study finds that hearing opposing political viewpoints actually makes a person think harder and even strengthens their arguments and resolve.

Researchers at Binghamton University in New York recruited 541 participants who identified as either liberal or conservative. Each individual was presented with statements from a fictitious politician on three issues: illegal immigration, the handling of economic crises, and Iran’s nuclear pursuit.

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A new study finds that hearing opposing political viewpoints actually makes a person think harder and even strengthens their arguments and resolve.

Half of the participants were presented with political statements they ideologically opposed, while the remaining half were given statements that aligned with their views.

Participants were then asked to share how they felt about each candidate’s statements.

After a reflection period, the researchers found that absorbing incongruent viewpoints from another person profoundly affected one’s thinking about politics. New information from someone with an opposing ideology caused participants to think longer and harder, leading them to craft better arguments and counterarguments.

Paradoxically, listening to contrasting political viewpoints actually strengthened an individual’s confidence in their own partisan beliefs.

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“Our robust findings… suggest that resisting a counter view or supporting one’s own ideological viewpoint triggers deeper and more effortful information processing, leading to recall from memory of more thoughts and rationales and recognition of different dimensions of the issue,” explains researcher Elif Erisen in a university news release.

“Whether they are opposing the counter ideological statement or supporting a statement in line with their own ideology, people produce thoughts of better quality when they defend their views,” Erisen adds.

Since many politicians don’t acknowledge the other side, Erisen believes that enormous gains could be made with engaging everyone.

“The more they disregard the other side or oppose the contradictory or opposing policy statement, the public will follow that,” he says. “The less exchange of information, the more the conflict will be.”

The full study was published Aug. 30 in the journal American Politics Research.

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