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The Causes and Consequences of Affective Polarization in Political Beliefs
Political and affective polarization are among the defining social issues of our time, yet the mechanisms driving these phenomena remain relatively poorly understood. This symposium offers novel insights on the causes and consequences of affective polarization, at three levels of analysis: individual, interpersonal (dyadic), and societal. Molnar & Loewenstein challenge theories of belief-homophily and argue that polarization might be driven by the perceived incorrectness of opponents’ beliefs, rather than by belief-dissonance. They show that people are primarily disturbed and avoid others when they think that others hold false beliefs, compared to when others' beliefs are merely different from their own. While the first presentation focuses on what makes individuals upset when encountering opposing views, Dorison & Minson investigate how such conflicts unfold in dyadic interactions, and more importantly, whether people can correctly anticipate how their opponents feel. They document a novel error in affective perspective taking: While people report primarily anger and frustration during disagreement, they expect others to feel anxiety and overestimate how anxious others feel about their views. Finally, Van Boven et al. demonstrate how affective polarization can lead to detrimental societal consequences amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Results of their large-scale international experiment (Brazil, Israel, Italy, Korea, Sweden, UK, and the US) indicate that participants support Covid-19 policies proposed by their political ingroup, and partisan cues exacerbate polarization and reduce broad policy support. These findings not only have implications for theories on affective polarization but can also inform policies aimed to improve the quality of public discourse.