The prime psychological suspects of toxic political polarization

Moore-Berg, Samantha L.; Hameiri, Boaz; Bruneau, Emile
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences

Democracies welcome dissent, but when disagreements turn divisive, they can imperil social cohesion and become toxic to democracy. We review research on the psychological processes associated with toxic polarization. Prior work has generally focused on polarization as a consequence of ideological differences or affective evaluations. We assess recent research on these dimensions, and extend the scope to include psychological processes that motivate hostility in other intergroup settings, but that have only recently been examined in political contexts: dehumanization and ‘meta-perceptions’ (negative evaluations of the ingroup perceived to be held by the outgroup). By examining these processes in the context of equal-status, but ideologically opposite, groups, the research reviewed provides new insight into the ways intergroup evaluations are shaped by political ideological orientations.