Racial tensions are undeniably high in America, and much of the strain comes on the heels of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer and the wave of additional and controversial deaths that followed. Given the widespread and rapid sharing of information that now takes place via social media and related channels, many Americans have viewed these encounters for themselves and had an opportunity to form their own opinions about them.
This evening, Intelligence Squared U.S. will be hosting a live debate: The Universal Basic Income Is The Safety Net Of The Future. Imagine getting a check from the government every month. $600 guaranteed. It’s happening in Finland, where a pilot program is being launched to test what’s known as a “universal basic income.”
Most people like to think of themselves as open-minded and rational, but a new and fascinating study reveals that the brain is neurologically hard-wired to defend political beliefs – and feels severely threatened when opposed.
In this USC-led study, neuroscientists have determined that when people’s political beliefs are challenged, our brains respond in a similar manner to personal threats. Basically, it cues the “fight or flight” survival instinct: the brain’s areas involved in personal identity and emotion senses activate in a similar manner to an attack on a deeply personal and emotional level. How did they measure participant responses?
“In this study, we performed functional MRI to measure the brain activity of 40 individuals with strong political views as they encountered arguments against their beliefs. All the subjects were self-identified as political liberals of deep conviction. Inside the fMRI scanner, participants saw a series of statements they previously indicated strongly believing, followed by several challenging counterarguments. After participants read all five counterarguments, the original statement was shown again and they reported their post-challenge belief strength. The difference between pre-scan and post-challenge ratings was used as a measure of belief change. In order to compare high belief persistence to low belief persistence, in one condition we challenged strongly held political beliefs, and in another condition we challenged strongly-held non-political beliefs. While the non-political beliefs were just as strongly held according to the participants who held them, we did not expect these beliefs to be defended with the same vigor.”
When challenged, participants often shut down, disregarding any rational evidence that is contrary to their beliefs. Political beliefs are often so entrenched that they become unmovable, or as lead author of the study Jonas Kaplan puts it, “to consider an alternative view, you would have to consider an alternative version of yourself.”
As the study’s authors note, this shutdown of dialogue poses a serious problem for our shared future.
“The inability to change another person’s mind through evidence and argument, or to have one’s own mind changed in turn, stands out as a problem of great societal importance,” the researchers wrote. “Both human knowledge and human cooperation depend upon such feats of cognitive and emotional flexibility.”
Just look at the data from the MRI scans of brain activity:
Understanding the root causes of the growing hyper-partisanship in the U.S. is the first step towards a more conscientious, participatory, and effective political discourse. In order to combat a predilection towards bickering and misunderstanding, we have to actively fight against that, keeping lines of communication open, and always focusing on civility and respect.
Thankfully, there are more than 130 debates in the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate archive that are designed to challenge your point of view – in a way your brain will welcome. Hear both sides engage in a thoughtful, considerate and open-minded dialogue on even the most polarizing topics. We know the debate format works: more than 50% of our listeners change their minds when exposed to the other side. Get started here.
When Donald Trump first stepped into the political arena, many saw his entry as little more than yet another way to raise his public profile profile and get his face in front of more cameras. As time went on, however, and other Republican presidential candidates began to drop out of the presidential race left and right, those who may not have initially considered Trump a serious contender for the highest office in the land were forced to reconsider.
More than 11 million immigrants are currently residing in the United States illegally, and
the question of what to do with this growing population remains a hot-button issue, thanks in part to the considerable attention it has received in recent months from Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump.
At the crux of the issue is whether these millions of immigrants should be granted an opportunity to pursue citizenship so they can become contributing members of American society, or whether they should be punished for entering the country without following proper protocols and sent back to their countries of origin as a result. While there are obvious economic and social implications involved with deporting this population or establishing a path to citizenship, moral and ethical considerations also come into play.
The IQ2US panelists debating for the motion were Angela Kelley, executive director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. Debating against the motion were Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Law Review.
Proponents for the motion argued that many undocumented immigrants would gladly have pursued a legal path to citizenship if additional factors hadn’t barred them from doing so. For example, it was noted that the U.S. immigration system has not undergone any significant overhaul since 1990, and that the current system allows exactly 5,000 visas to be granted. The number of immigrants seeking work visas far exceeds this number, creating a massive backlog and further complicating one’s ability to work in this country legally. Furthermore, current laws dictate that anyone in the country illegally for six months or more will be penalized by being denied a chance to pursue legal citizenship for 10 years. Given that many of these immigrants have family members and children born in the United States, few are willing to take such a risk.
Proponents also referenced logistics, noting that the nation does not currently have the resources necessary to deport 11 million immigrants, and statistics, referencing the fact that between 72 and 88 percent of U.S. citizens support some type of path to citizenship as opposed to the alternative, deportation.
Opponents of the motion countered the argument that there is no logistical way to deport 11 million people by noting that there also is no logistical way to appropriately process and vet a group of this size seeking citizenship. They also noted that letting illegal immigrants pursue a path to citizenship is essentially rewarding this population for its bad behavior, and in doing so, setting a poor precedent that may lead others to take similar actions.
Additionally, opponents referenced the fact that many less-educated Americans are having to compete with immigrants for jobs, and they also noted that most immigrants receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes. They argued that more attention must be given to protecting U.S. borders and enforcing existing immigration laws, as opposed to using already-limited resources on helping those who came here illegally obtain citizenship.
Pre-Debate Poll Results
Prior to the debate, 66 percent of audience members were for the motion, 10 percent were against it and 24 percent were undecided.
Post-Debate Poll Results
After the debate, 55 percent of audience members were for the motion, 37 percent were against it and 8 percent were undecided.