Another Rational Way to Become More Moderate

On Tuesday, I talked about research that showed just how malleable our supposed extreme biases and iron-clad beliefs can be. Simply by making fonts difficult to read, people’s attitudes on highly controversial subjects become more moderate. Today, I’ve got another example of just how flimsy our so-called beliefs can be.

The proposed mosque at Ground-Zero is quite the  controversial topic. On one hand, you have liberal, freedom of religion folks who realize that Islam does not teach hate and murder, and that those responsible were extreme zealots; that denying a people’s religion goes against the very document this country was founded on. On the other, you have religious conservatives who believe having a place of worship for the religion of those responsible for the attacks on 9/11 is an insult to the memory of those who died.

No word yet from those people, however, on whether or not we ought to allow Catholic churches in the Middle East after the Crusades or any Christian churches in America after the displacement and eradication of the entire Native American nation. Killing on behalf of your own God is always allowed. Or, as George Carlin framed it, “My God has a bigger dick than your God.”

But I digress.

In the new study conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois, results show that when you make people think abstractly – about any topic whatsoever – and then ask them about a polarizing topic, their viewpoint becomes more moderate. Specifically, researchers asked a group of participants three abstract “why” questions about their health, and another group three “how” questions. After seeing images of the airplanes flying into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11, those who were asked the “why” questions had viewpoints about the mosque that were much more moderated than their peers.

“We observed that liberals and conservatives became more moderate in their attitudes,” said Jesse Preston, University of Illinois psychology professor and lead author on the study. “After this very brief task that just put them in this abstract mindset, they were more willing to consider the point of view of the opposition.”

Perhaps congress ought to be asked questions on why they thought the most recent Twilight film sucked hot monkey ass before they debate the looming fiscal cliff.

The paper “Polarized Attitudes Toward the Ground Zero Mosque Are Reduced by High-Level Construal,” was published in Social Psychology & Personality Science by University of Illinois graduate students Daniel Yang and Ivan Hernandez.

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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