Tribalism Took Over Our Politics

Social science gives an uncomfortable explanation: Our brains were made for conflict



Decades of social science research show that our need for collective belonging is forceful enough to reshape how we view facts and affect our voting decisions. When our group is threatened, we rise to its defense.

Democrats are using the tactic, too, if not as forcefully as Trump. The Biden campaign criticized Republicans in Wednesday’s presidential debate as “extreme candidates” who would undermine democracy, and President Biden himself has accused “MAGA Republicans” of trying to destroy our systems of government. 

The human brain in many circumstances is more suited to tribalism and conflict than to civility and reasoned debate.

“Instead of going into the voting booth and asking, ‘What do I want my elected representatives to do for me,’ they’re thinking, ‘If my party loses, it’s not just that my policy preferences aren’t going to get done,’ ” said Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist. “It’s who I think I am, my place in the world, my religion, my race, the many parts of my identity are all wrapped up in that one vote.”

Wall Street Journal 26 August 2023



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