Why do disagreements spiral into anger?

It is almost a truism that disagreement produces conflict. This article suggests that perceptions of bias can drive this relationship. First, these studies show that people perceive those who disagree with them as biased. Second, they show that the conflict-escalating approaches that people take toward those who disagree with them are mediated by people’s tendency to perceive those who disagree with them as biased. Third, these studies manipulate the mediator and show that experimental manipulations that prompt people to perceive adversaries as biased lead them to respond more conflictually—and that such responding causes those who engage in it to be viewed as more biased and less worthy of cooperative gestures. In summary, this article provides evidence for a “bias-perception conflict spiral,” whereby people who disagree perceive each other as biased, and those perceptions in turn lead them to take conflict-escalating actions against each other (which in turn engender further perceptions of bias, continuing the spiral).

Source: “When Disagreement Gets Ugly: Perceptions of Bias and the Escalation of Conflict” from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 6, 833-848 (2008)

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