Hexbyte Glen Cove Political discussions focused on consensus more comfortable, less divisive for students thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Political discussions focused on consensus more comfortable, less divisive for students

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study found more U.S. high school students felt respected in a political discussion designed as a deliberation—where the goal was to reach consensus—than in a group debate, and their views also moved closer toward agreement. Students engaged in group debate were generally more polarized after the activity.

Published in the Peabody Journal of Education, the study’s findings could help teachers to structure political discussions in social studies classrooms, depending on the skills they want students to learn. In classrooms with high political diversity, could help reduce division.

“In our highly polarized climate, do we want kids to become more entrenched in their views, or more open to learning about the issues?” said the study’s first author Paula McAvoy, associate professor of teacher education at NC State. “The value of deliberation is it can promote an openness to changing your mind and being persuaded. The debate model promotes taking a position and fighting for it. These findings can help teachers decide which skills they want students to learn, depending on how they structure classroom discussions.”

In the study, researchers surveyed and observed 165 high school students who participated in political discussions in the fall of 2019 as part of the civic education program Close Up Washington. The program brings around 20,000 middle and high school students from public and around the country to Washington D.C. for a week-long study of the federal government.

“This program offered us a chance to study a lab-like experience of in political discussions,” said study co-author Gregory McAvoy, professor of political science at UNC-Greensboro.

For held through the program, students were provided with background materials on issues and encouraged to discuss, with civility, issues including criminal justice reform, climate change, gun regulation, health care and immigration. In deliberations, students first read about different policy proposals. Then students discussed the proposals in small groups in order to try to come to consensus about a policy they all endorse, and presented their findings to the larger group. In debates, students formed two opposing teams, and then each prepared persuasive arguments to try to win over a panel of their peers.

Ninety percent of participants they surveyed reported they felt respected in the deliberation that focused on consensus, and 91 percent reported they felt good about their comments. In comparison, 76 percent of students who engaged in debate felt respected during the activity, and 70 percent felt good about their comments.

“In terms of what made students feel more comfortable, we think the tone of the deliberation led more students to report feeling comfortable because it’s collaborative, and not adversarial,” Paula McAvoy said. “The debate was challenging because everyone had to stand up and make a 30-second comment to the group. A lot of students got nervous about that.”

Young women were significantly more likely to report hearing something offensive during either type of discussion, to report they were more hesitant to speak, and were less likely to say they felt good about the comments they made. They did not find any statistically significant differences by race or ethnicity.

Students who responded to the survey were 79 percent white, 24 percent Latinx, 5 percent Black, and 2 percent Asian, with some students selecting more than one category. They were 54 percent female and 44 percent male. Two percent declined to answer. The sample was politically diverse, with an approximately even distribution of students identifying as conservative, liberal, moderate and unsure. However, the researchers said the respondents tended to more white, more conservative and wealthy compared to the demographics of Gen Z across the United States.

They plotted student’s attitudes on specific issues before and after the deliberations and debates. For students who participated in consensus deliberations, they saw attitudes on the assigned issues start out dispersed—either with a wider distribution of views or two divided peaks. After the deliberation, researchers saw a trend across groups of views moving toward agreement. They saw more polarization—a move toward two opposing positions—after debates.

“In the debates, most of the talk that happens involves students talking to others who agree with them, and figuring out why the other team is wrong,” Paula McAvoy said. “A lot of teachers use debate as a critical thinking activity, but you might actually be causing students to become more divided on issues.”

The findings could help social studies teachers to structure discussions at a time when political culture is highly polarized. Previous studies have shown that students are increasingly arriving at schools with partisan animosity and anxiety related to politics, making teachers hesitant to bring politics into the classroom.

“What we’re finding is that with appropriate structure and design, students are able to have student-centered, civil, informed discussions about highly controversial issues,” Paula McAvoy said. “Even though there was a lot of political disagreement in the room, students were able to talk across their differences.”

To see if their conclusions hold, researchers want to repeat the study with a larger sample size. They also want to find out if deliberation and debates look different with groups of different beliefs, ethnicities and other demographic factors.

The study, “Can Debate and Deliberation Reduce Partisan Divisions? Evidence from a Study of High School Students” was published online in the Peabody Journal of Education on July 14, 2021.

More information:
Paula McAvoy et al, Can Debate and Deliberation Reduce Partisan Divisions? Evidence from a Study of High School Students, Peabody Journal of Education (2021). DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2021.1942706

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Game 'pre-bunks' political misinformation by letting players undermine democracy thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Game ‘pre-bunks’ political misinformation by letting players undermine democracy

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The title screen of online browser game Harmony Square. Credit: Gusmanson

A short online game in which players are recruited as a “Chief Disinformation Officer”, using tactics such as trolling to sabotage elections in a peaceful town, has been shown to reduce susceptibility to political misinformation in its users.

The free-to-play Harmony Square is released to the public today, along with a study on its effectiveness published in the Harvard Misinformation Review.

It has been created by University of Cambridge psychologists with support from the US Department of State’s Global Engagement Center and Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

The gameplay is based on “inoculation theory”: that exposing people to a weak “dose” of common techniques used to spread fake news allows them to better identify and disregard misinformation when they encounter it in future.

In this case, by understanding how to incite political division in the game using everything from bots and conspiracies to fake experts, players get a form of “psychological vaccine” against the product of these techniques in the .

“Trying to debunk misinformation after it has spread is like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. By pre-bunking, we aim to stop the spread of fake news in the first place,” said Dr. Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making lab and senior author of the new study.

Twitter has started using a “pre-bunk” approach: highlighting types of fake news likely to be encountered in feeds during the US election. However, researchers argue that familiarising people with techniques behind misinformation builds a “general inoculation”, reducing the need to rebut each individual conspiracy.

In the 10-minute game Harmony Square, a small town neighbourhood “obsessed with democracy” comes under fire as players bait the square’s “living statute”, spread falsehoods about its candidate for “bear controller”, and set up a disreputable online news site to attack the local TV anchor.

“The game itself is quick, easy and tongue-in-cheek, but the experiential learning that underpins it means that people are more likely to spot misinformation, and less likely to share it, next time they log on to Facebook or YouTube,” said Dr. Jon Roozenbeek, a Cambridge psychologist and lead author of the study.

Over the course of four short levels, users learn about five manipulation techniques: trolling to provoke outrage; exploiting emotional language to create anger and fear; artificially amplifying reach through bots and fake followers; creating and spreading conspiracy theories; polarizing audiences.

In a , researchers took 681 people and asked them to rate the reliability of a series of news and social media posts: some real, some misinformation, and even some faked misinformation created for the study, in case participants had already come across real-world examples.

They gave roughly half the sample Harmony Square to play, while the other half played Tetris, and then asked them to rate another series of news posts.

The perceived reliability of misinformation dropped an average of 16% in those who completed Harmony Square compared to their assessment prior to playing. The game also reduced willingness to share fake news with others by 11%. Importantly, the players’ own politics—whether they leaned left or right—made no difference.

Having the “control group” who played Tetris allowed the scientists to determine an “effect size” of 0.54 for the study, said Van der Linden.

“The effect size suggests that if the population was split equally like the study sample, 63% of the half that played the game would go on to find misinformation significantly less reliable, compared to just 37% of the half left to navigate online information without the inoculation of Harmony Square,” he said.

The project follows other playful attempts by CISA to illustrate how “foreign influencers” use disinformation to target “hot button” issues. A previous demonstration took the example of whether pineapple belongs on pizza.

However, Harmony Square is based on the findings of a number of studies from the Cambridge team showing how similar gamified approaches to digital literacy significantly reduce susceptibility to and online conspiracies.

The team behind the game, which includes the Dutch media agency DROG and designers Gusmanson, have recently worked with the UK Cabinet Office on Go Viral!, an intervention that specifically tackles conspiracies around COVID-19.

Harmony Square is geared towards the politically charged that has plagued many democracies over the last decade. “The aftermath of this week’s election day is likely to see an explosion of dangerous online falsehoods as tensions reach fever pitch,” said Van der Linden.

“Fake and online conspiracies will continue to chip away at the democratic process until we take seriously the need to improve digital media literacy across populations. The effectiveness of interventions such as Harmony Square are a promising start,” he said.

More information:
Jon Roozenbeek et al, Breaking Harmony Square: A game that “inoculates” against political misinformation, Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review (2020). DOI: 10.37016/mr-2020-47

Game ‘pre-bunks’ political misinformation by letting players undermine democracy (2020, November 6)
retrieved 6 November 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-11-game-pre-bu

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