Reconsidering the roots of affective polarization
TWCF Number
Project Duration
June 1 / 2024
- May 31 / 2027
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Arber Tasimi
Institution Emory University

While polarization is a nuanced and multifaceted phenomenon, in its simplest form it can be thought of as an intolerance of “different”. We live in an increasingly globalized world where different values and ideas exist—and sometimes collide and for humans to flourish we have to be able to productively exist with these differences. What this means is that tolerating differences in what others value and think is not only a requisite for living in a pluralistic society, but also essential for accepting and embracing diversity.

However, the current polarized state of the world shows that embracing difference and diversity may not come naturally to us humans. One increasingly popular view suggests that we may be predisposed to divide the world into “us” and “them”. In other words, polarization may be bred in the bone, so to speak. This idea has gained traction throughout psychological science and generated interest from popular periodicals and television programs. However, the applicant is skeptical of this view.

The goal of this project is to discover novel psychological foundations that may illuminate how affective polarization (specifically, a disliking of others with different opinions and views) comes into being over early development. Specific goals for the long term are to examine if, when, why, and how curiosity about dissimilar others transforms into a dislike. The applicant aims to probe the ideas that 1) Infants do not think negatively of others with different opinions and 2) Others with different opinions, if anything, induce curiosity early in life through a series of 5 experiments:

  • Study 1 aims to assess the influence of dissimilarity on infants’ social preferences.
  • Study 2 aims to further challenge the idea that infants think negatively of other people with different opinions.
  • Study 3 aims to test whether a link between dissimilarity and negativity exists in infants’ social expectations.
  • Study 4 aims to test if infants are curious about others with different opinions
  • Study 5 aims to explore whether dissimilarity might induce curiosity in young children across different domains (i.e., shared or differing opinions on food, toys, and music)

The purpose of the proposed work is to lay the foundation for future research aimed at illuminating how affective polarization (specifically, a disliking of others with different opinions and views) comes into being over development.

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