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Psychology in the News

Garriy Shteynberg receives 3-year NSF grant

Garriy Shteynberg was recently awarded a $351,339 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for his research project entitled, “Social Bases of Attitudinal Extremetization: Shared Attention versus Attitudinal Simulation”.  The project examines processes by which Americans’ social and political attitudes have grown more extreme.  Dr. Shteynberg serves as the Primary Investigator of this timely research project which uses an adversarial collaboration model and includes two research collaborators who hold divergent views to help provide a better understanding of these pressing societal concerns.

A brief summary of the research project:

In the last 20 years, Americans’ social and political attitudes have grown more extreme. Both the American public and elected officials hold increasingly divergent and polarized views about economic and social issues. The growing divergence in social and political attitudes hinders the nation’s ability to solve its pressing problems. This project examines the ways in which attitude extremetization is a result of the human capacity to share attention—the ability to sense that one is attending to information with others at the same time.  Prior research shows that sharing attention on information leads to more extreme emotions and attitudes.  It is not known why this occurs.  One possibility is that people are more likely to imagine the attitudes of those who co-attend to information with them. By imagining the attitudes of many others, one’s own attitudes can grow more extreme. Another possibility is that people are more likely to pay more attention to the ideas that are the focus of shared attention. When those ideas happen to represent only one view, the view dominates one’s thoughts, resulting in more extreme attitudes. It is also conceivable that attitudes grow more extreme under shared attention because of both possibilities at the same time.  Greater understanding of how attitudes grow more extreme in social groups is vital to efforts to find common ground on the social and economic challenges of today.

This project is an adversarial collaboration, in which scientists who disagree work together to find common ground.  Studies often claim to settle an issue, yet scientific disagreement remains due to differences in the interpretation and understanding of results. The principal investigator is collaborating with two other researchers who hold a distinct view of how shared attention renders attitudes more extreme. The researchers have agreed to work collaboratively on twelve experiments. They will consult on every aspect of study design, execution, and analysis, with the goal of reaching a joint understanding of the results.  The experiments test whether thoughts about the co-attendees’ attitudes, and co-attended ideas can have independent, opposite, and combined effects on attitudinal extremetization under shared attention. Some of the studies take place in real-world contexts of an online political media channel or online open college course. The methods, materials, and settings of these studies approximate the world outside of the laboratory, increasing the likelihood that the research will support a better understanding of pressing societal concerns.

Congratulations Garriy!

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