A new theory about political polarization

June 29, 2020

[Vienna, 29 June 2020] The ever-deepening rift between the political left- and right-wing has long been puzzling theorists in political science and opinion dynamics. An international team led by researchers of the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH) now offers an explanation: Their newly developed "Weighted Balance Theory" (WBT) model sees social emotions as a driving force of political opinion dynamics. The theory is published in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS).

A certain degree of polarization of political opinions is considered normal--and even beneficial--to the health of democracy. In the last few decades, however, conservative and liberal views have been drifting farther apart than ever, and at the same time have become more consistent. When too much polarization hampers a nation's ability to combat threats such as the coronavirus pandemic, it can even be deadly.

How do extreme positions evolve?

"We feel high balance when dealing with someone we like and with whom we agree in all political issues," explains first author Simon Schweighofer, who was working at the CSH when the paper was written. "We also feel high balance towards those we hate and with whom we disagree," adds the expert in quantitative social science. The human tendency to maintain emotional balance was first described 1946 by Fritz Heider's "cognitive balance theory."

But what happens when opinions and interpersonal attitudes are in conflict with each other, i.e., when individuals disagree with others they like, or agree with others they dislike? "People will try to overcome this imbalance by adapting their opinions, in order to increase balance with their emotions," says Schweighofer.

A vicious circle of increasingly intense emotions and opinions gradually replaces moderate positions until most issues are seen in the same--often extremely polarized--way as one's political allies, the scientists found.

"It ultimately ends in total polarization," illustrates co-author David Garcia (CSH and MedUni Vienna). Not only do people categorically favor or oppose single issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and nuclear energy. "If they are pro-choice, they are at the same time highly likely to be for gay marriage, against the use of nuclear energy, for the legalization of marijuana, and so on," says Garcia. The possible variety of combinations of different opinions is reduced to the traditional left-right split.

A mathematical model of hyperpolarization

The researchers developed a so-called agent-based model to simulate this process. Their mathematical model was able to reproduce the same dynamics that can be observed in real-life political processes (see videos).

"We call the combination of extremeness and correlation between policy issues hyperpolarization," says Simon Schweighofer. "Hyperpolarization has so far been overlooked in social theories on opinion formation. Our Weighted Balance Model--which is a truly interdisciplinary effort that integrates research strains from psychology, political science and opinion dynamics into an overarching theoretical framework--offers a new perspective on the emergence of political conflict," he concludes.
-end-
Simon Schweighofer, Frank Schweitzer, David Garcia, A Weighted Balance Model of Opinion Hyperpolarization, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 23 (3) 5 (2020) http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/23/3/5.html

About the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH):

The mission of CSH Vienna is to host, educate, and inspire complex systems scientists dedicated to making sense of Big Data to boost science and society. Scientists at the Hub develop methods for the scientific, quantitative, and predictive understanding of complex systems. Focal areas include the resilience and efficiency of socio-economic and ecological systems, network medicine, the dynamics of innovation, and the science of cities.

The Hub is a joint initiative of AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, Central European University CEU, Danube University Krems, Graz University of Technology, IIASA International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IMBA, Medical University of Vienna, TU Wien, VetMedUni Vienna, Vienna University of Economics and Business, and Austrian Economic Chambers (WKO). http://www.csh.ac.at

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Related Emotions Articles from Brightsurf:

Why are memories attached to emotions so strong?
Multiple neurons in the brain must fire in synchrony to create persistent memories tied to intense emotions, new research from Columbia neuroscientists has found.

The relationship between looking/listening and human emotions
Toyohashi University of Technology has indicated that the relationship between attentional states in response to pictures and sounds and the emotions elicited by them may be different in visual perception and auditory perception.

Multitasking in the workplace can lead to negative emotions
From writing papers to answering emails, it's common for office workers to juggle multiple tasks at once.

Do ER caregivers' on-the-job emotions affect patient care?
Doctors and nurses in emergency departments at four academic centers and four community hospitals in the Northeast reported a wide range of emotions triggered by patients, hospital resources and societal factors, according to a qualitative study led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst social psychologist.

The 'place' of emotions
The entire set of our emotions is mapped in a small region of the brain, a 3 centimeters area of the cortex, according to a study conducted at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Faking emotions at work does more harm than good
Faking your emotions at work to appear more positive likely does more harm than good, according to a University of Arizona researcher.

Students do better in school when they can understand, manage emotions
Students who are better able to understand and manage their emotions effectively, a skill known as emotional intelligence, do better at school than their less skilled peers, as measured by grades and standardized test scores, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

How people want to feel determines whether others can influence their emotions
New Stanford research on emotions shows that people's motivations are a driving factor behind how much they allow others to influence their feelings, such as anger.

Moral emotions, a diagnotic tool for frontotemporal dementia?
A study conducted by Marc Teichmann and Carole Azuar at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris (France) and at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital shows a particularly marked impairment of moral emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Emotions from touch
Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study.

Read More: Emotions News and Emotions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.