BYU study finds political messaging doesn’t fight bias


A popular politician’s tactic to sway voters is proving to have little success, according to new BYU research. Researchers have found that videos of political messages that aim to humanize different groups of people ultimately do little to combat prejudice.

How the study was conducted

The study, which was published in the Journal of Politics, looked at 3,498 Republicans living in the western United States. The researchers probed their opinions of Latino immigrants before showing them scenes from a documentary that paints a realistic picture of their lives.

BYU News reported that after participants watched the documentary clips, they were more likely to empathize with immigrants only if they had a better opinion of them before watching the film.

The researchers surmised that one of the things that kept participants who were already “ill-disposed” toward immigrants from feeling empathy was the uncomfortable feeling people get when they realize their beliefs or worldview are incorrect. . This feeling is described by researchers as dissonance.

“Dissonance challenges our sense of self, and most people are loath to pay the price for confronting it. We wondered if, once convinced by the documentary that immigrants were human beings and not mere stereotypes, some participants became uncomfortable and that their discomfort negated the empathy they might otherwise have developed,” said Joshua Gubler, professor of political science at BYU.

Second phase of the study

The first part of the study was followed by a second experiment, where the researchers asked 1,982 participants to look at “comforting images of Latinos” and asked them to check whether they had changed their beliefs by seeing these images. Pictures. Then, half of the participants were told that the immigrants had papers and the other half that they were undocumented. To see if this affected their beliefs, participants confirmed in writing that they “agreed with a list of statements describing positive attributes of immigrants.”

The researchers found that people with greater animosity towards immigrants at the start were three times more likely to show dissonance after completing the study and were less likely to have empathy after viewing the images.

How these findings could affect policy

These results could change the way politicians try to activate their base and influence independent voters.

“Humanizing messages have been the main approach of activists to reduce bias around the world, in conflict resolution groups, documentaries and refugee organizations,” Gubler said.

If people are not motivated to change their minds through media messages because of dissonance, politicians will have to find another way to influence voters.

“People think they’re effective, but that’s because they preach to the choir, and the choir responds appropriately,” Gubler said. “There is value in rallying a base, but it is different in changing the minds of those whom the messages are intended to target.”


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