Do you get the feeling that political debate is increasingly polarised? Certainly in the country where I live, the UK, politics appears to be at an impasse. The impression I have is that the same factions seem to be stubbornly rehashing the same debates with little compromise. It is frustrating, quite boring and from a social science point of view a little perplexing.
But what if polarisation is entirely to be expected? And what if it is not the result of ignorance or small-mindedness, but a perfectly human response to our fallibilities and flaws? Some of the latest research shows us that one reason for the polarisation we see today comes down to a few, incredibly influential minorities.
Social scientists have historically explained polarisation as the result of irrational thinking. Surely, any reasonable, although mis-informed, person will accept when they are mistaken, the argument goes. Someone who stubbornly sticks to their wrongly held beliefs when presented with evidence is, you would think, clearly acting irrationally.