Study Gives Insight on How to Manage Differences and Polarization at the Workplace

August 12, 2021by Anupriya Kukreja

Summary of:

Marsh, W.Z.C. (2021) .The devil no more? Decreasing negative out party affect through asymmetric partisan thinking.

Background & Theory

Polarization is a phenomenon that social psychologists and political researchers have been studying for a long time. With recent elections, global affairs, and the rise of social media, it has gotten even more acute. Affective polarization is the specific polarization phenomenon wherein Democrats and Republicans dislike one another and avoid social milieus occupied by out partisans as much as possible. It can be so extreme that partisans not only cannot envision working with, living near, or compromising without partisans, they do not even see them as equally human. In this study, the author looks at how this extreme outgroup bias can be mitigated and reduced.

Research Question(s)

The researcher had the following hypothesis:

    1. Policy-instrumental information will decrease the negative affect of Republicans towards Democrats, while coalition-expressive information will decrease the negative affect of Democrats towards Republicans. (H1)

    2. Policy-instrumental information will increase the positive affect of Republicans towards Republicans, while coalition-expressive information will increase the positive effect of Democrats towards Democrats. (H2)

Methods

The author conducted an original survey experiment through Qualtrics to test these hypotheses. The 1,146 respondent sample of U.S. residents included quotas for gender, income, and age to mimic the U.S. populations. Respondents were randomly sorted into one of three groups: a control group, a policy- instrumental information treatment group, and a coalition-expressive information treatment group.

In the policy-instrumental treatment, respondents were made to view a table listing the policy positions of each party on four issues. The left-right arrangement of the parties was randomly alternated in this treatment condition to avoid ordering or primacy bias. The policies included in this treatment were all social welfare policies.

In the coalition-expressive treatment, respondents viewed a table listing the four social groups most strongly associated with each party. In the control condition, respondents were simply asked to advance to the next page.

All respondents were then asked to list up to five things they like and dislike about the Republican and Democratic parties, a measure used in previous studies evaluating polarization.

Results

The author found that providing policy information about the parties decreased Republicans’ negative affect towards Democrats while providing party coalition information decreased Democrats’ negative affect towards Republicans. Neither type of information, however, causes a significant change in inparty affect. This provides evidence that an asymmetric informational intervention can decrease negative out-party affect.

How This Translates for the Workplace

  1. Check for polarization within the organization: It’s now common to have employees bring in their opinions and political views to the workplace. In some cases, this can lead to healthy discussions and growth, but if done too frequently, it can get toxic and out of hand. The management can keep checks on their employees to sense environmental tension and plan evidence-based interventions to make the discussions more conducive to growth. PPS’s founder Jeremy Pollack has written a useful article on this issue.
  2. Policies vs coalitions: Which groups, individuals, or departments tend to favor certain company policies? There may be discussions and disagreements with regards to company policies and decisions which can lead to polarization as well. These departmental groups act as coalitions and can often divide employees in terms of what they agree with regards to the future of the company. This is a common phenomenon amongst board members. As the researcher found, this can be mitigated by focusing on the rationale behind these policies, rather than which groups support them. Having discussion groups and transparency around company plans and decisions can create more trust and reduce polarization regarding them.

Anupriya Kukreja

Anupriya Kukreja is a graduate in Political Science and Psychology from Ashoka University in India. She has interned at Hospitals in their psychology departments and worked at reputed policy organizations, as well as been an Albright Fellow at Wellesley College. At PPS, she examines the latest research in international conflict and writes about how such methods may apply to conflict in the workplace. She is also a part of APA Division 48’s official Newsletter "The Peace Psychologist’s" editorial team. Her long-term career goal is to apply the lens of Behaviour science to Public Policy, Conflict Resolution, and Organizational Transformation.

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