Many left-leaning students at the University of Washington-Seattle harbor feelings that Republicans and conservatives are “evil,” “inhuman,” or “not even a person,” according to a new study led by a team of UW psychology professors.
The study, “Improving Relations among Conservatives and Liberals on a College Campus,” set out to do just that: bring students from opposing sides of the political divide together in an honest attempt to cultivate empathy and understanding.
The results, published November 10 in the Journal of Contextual Behavioural Science, should raise worry for any parent with a conservative kid in college.
“Here at UW, we’re a predominantly liberal campus,” said Jonathan Kantor, a professor at UW and the study’s lead researcher, on Tuesday.
“But we have a decent number of students who come from small towns or rural places who are feeling politically marginalized and isolated. That’s problematic,” Kantor told PJ Media by phone when asked what inspired his research.
So, Kantor designed and held a four-hour experimental workshop with 20 student volunteers. After two hours of putting students through team-building activities designed to foster empathy and compassion, the workshop turned political.
This was intentional, of course.
Students were then instructed to discuss their political views, but in a personal way. For example, one Second Amendment supporter told the story of how he hunted deer with his grandfather growing up, to explain the origins of his strong support for gun rights, said Kantor.
Liberal students, in turn, also told stories.
Before and after the workshop, the UW students were asked to what extent they agreed with statements like:
“Most conservatives are unsophisticated rednecks.”
“Most liberals are motivated in part by their hatred for America.”
“This country would be a better place if most conservatives packed up and moved out.”
These questions were designed to gauge students’ feelings of political Manichaeism.
“Political Manichaeism is when you demonize somebody who’s different than you…. The idea is basically that, if you’re a conservative, and I’m a liberal, then you’re evil and inhuman, and vice versa,” Kantor explained.
Fortunately, in the hours after the workshop, students’ feelings of Manichaeism decreased.
But when re-surveyed a month later, the students, especially liberals — who reported stronger feelings of manichaeism in the first place — basically went back to hating their political opponents.
“Liberal beliefs that conservatives are evil only temporarily improved,” the study concluded.
Future research could “explore whether Manichaeism directed towards conservatives increases conservative minority stress,” the study concluded.
Kantor stressed to PJ Media that the study itself wasn’t designed to take sides.
“[Schools like the University of Washington are] public institutions and we want students to feel comfortable about expressing their beliefs,” Kantor said, “regardless of whether they’re conservative or liberal.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.