The psychology of political polarization | Conservatives vs. Liberals

Kurt Gray, an associate professor at psychology and neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill, discusses the roots of America’s deep divisions using the framework of morality. Humans, who were historically prey rather than predators, evolved with a harm-based mindset, which influences our moral decisions. Morality, according to Dr. Gray, developed as a psychological tool to encourage cooperation and prevent harm within groups.

Dr. Gray points out that both liberals and conservatives have a moral sense focused on protecting themselves, their families, and their societies. The key difference lies in whom they perceive as vulnerable to harm. For instance, liberals might view undocumented immigrants as victims of circumstance who need protection in the US, while conservatives might see US citizens as vulnerable to an influx of labor and competition for jobs.

Dr. Gray emphasizes the importance of recognizing this harm-based perspective in others to cultivate more constructive conversations around issues. Understanding the shared motivations behind the behaviors of “the other side” and realizing the commonality in our moral foundations can help bridge divides and create a more civil society.