Building empathy for listening, learning, and depolarization in the US and Brazil
TWCF Number
Project Duration
May 1 / 2024
- April 30 / 2026
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
South America
Amount Awarded

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Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Institution Duke University

Paulo Boggio
Institution Mackenzie Presbyterian University

This project aims to continue developing and testing a new intervention that may reduce affective polarization, mitigate negative attitudes and promote positive behaviors toward perceived outgroup members. Taking inspiration from the “Jigsaw Classroom” cooperative learning model, this intervention will integrate theoretical models of affective polarization that relate polarization to lack of positive interactions and perceived irrationality of contrapartisans within the framework of the Contact Hypothesis. The Contact Hypothesis suggests that intergroup contact under appropriate conditions can effectively reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members.

Using a mobile app they are developing, the project team plans to provide people with opportunities to positively engage with their political opponents to show them that “the other side” can be reasonable. In the intervention, pairs of players with opposing views must complete a quiz about a political topic (e.g., immigration) where each player has access to different relevant information and each player is quizzed on all the information seen by each member of the team. In this way, players must cooperate to share information and are dependent on one another to successfully complete the quiz.

The project team hopes to advance understanding of the conditions under which positive intergroup interactions can be leveraged to increase empathy and mutual understanding. With this grant they plan to do this by:

  1. Developing a mobile application tool that uses a gamified version of a successful, empathy- promoting cooperative learning model to increase empathy, listening, and learning between polarized opponents
  2. Conducting studies to test the efficacy of the intervention in two highly polarized contexts: the U.S. and Brazil to assess if the intervention can be successful in reducing polarization and how well polarization interventions translate across cultures.

Ultimately, the project team hopes to understand the underlying behavioral mechanisms of affective polarization and evaluate their intervention for effectiveness in mitigating harms that affective polarization can cause in two different cultural contexts.

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