Depolarization in Disagreements through High-quality Listening
TWCF Number
Project Duration
November 1 / 2023
- October 31 / 2025
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
Middle East
Amount Awarded

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Guy Itzchakov
Institution University of Haifa

Netta Weinstein
Institution University of Reading

The world is more polarized than ever. Discussions involving societal issues occur daily between acquaintances, co-workers, family members, decision-makers, and politicians. These conversations can help people find common ground, but they can also polarize. A project led by Guy Itzchakov at University of Haifa and Netta Weinstein at University of Reading proposes a model of depolarization through high quality listening.

The project will test the expectation that high-quality listening can fundamentally shift the social and personal space so that conversations can depolarize attitudes. By providing attention, support, and understanding, despite different perspectives, it will model high-quality listening as a depolarizing agent in discussions centering around social causes. They will then apply this model across four cultures  (Israel, the UK, Hong Kong, and Peru) to test for generalizability and to examine similarities in processes in collectivist and individualist cultures.

The researchers have two primary hypotheses. First, that high-quality listening will act to depolarize speakers after they discuss a topic on which they disagree and second, and that challenging speakers on their views, a potentially threatening tactic that is known to backfire, can have additive (positive) effects when it follows high-quality listening. To investigate these hypotheses, the project team will manipulate listening behaviors during controversial discussions, such as conversations regarding prejudice and social rejection, between pairs of individuals. This approach allows a conversation to occur in a realistic setting while also allowing for experimental control of listening behavior.

The work will target academics in psychology and related fields interested in understanding depolarization and practitioners and others in the community who benefit from understanding the nature of constructive conversations (e.g., inclusion trainers, educators, leaders within organizations, and clinicians).  

Ultimately, this work will build a foundation for understanding how social and individual factors interact in order to guide constructive communication between people who disagree on certain topics.

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