Discover more from Better Conflict Bulletin
Polarized Misperceptions of The Magnitude of Police Violence - BCB #72
Also: Psychological safety and changing attitudes
It’s not just differences in values that can drive conflict, but differences in knowledge. This survey asked Americans to estimate the number of unarmed Black men killed by police in 2021. Most respondents guessed much too high, with self-identified Liberals guessing much higher.
The actual number of unarmed Black people killed by Police in 2021 is 11, according to the Washington Post’s database. In the survey, 40% of self-described “very liberal” respondents and 16% of “very conservative” respondents estimated 1,000 or over. Conversely, about 20% of “very liberal” respondents and 50% of “very conservative” respondents correctly guessed “about 10.”
In short, most Blue respondents guessed 10 or 100 times too high. While any number of unarmed people killed by police is too many, this sort of order-of-magnitude misperception can warp policy responses. For reference, the number of Black homicide victims was recorded as 9,426 in 2021 — almost a thousand times higher.
But the story is not quite that simple. When you include both armed and unarmed Black people killed by police, the number rises to 233. It’s not clear if respondents picked up on the word “armed” in the survey question, or if they would have known that this distinction makes an order-of-magnitude difference. Further, it must be said that the issue of police killings is also about racism in general, of which police violence is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet the polarized difference in perception can drive conflict on its own, as each side cannot understand why the other is or is not so concerned about the issue.
This article reviews a huge amount of previous work showing the importance of psychological safety in interpersonal influence—if you want to change someone’s mind, they have to trust you first. Feeling safe can be so powerful that it is strongly associated with changing our minds for the better, “even without any attempt at persuasion.”
Interaction partners who provide their partners with psychological safety free them from concerns of rejection and judgment. This allows for speakers to introspect on their attitudes in a non-defensive manner, which can lead to a broader and more complex perspective on the topics under discussion (Rogers, 1980). Providing psychological safety helps its recipients by, for example, increasing their vitality (Kark and Carmeli, 2009) and creativity (Carmeli et al., 2010). Providing psychological safety does not mean that interactants necessarily agree with each other, but rather that they acknowledge each other’s autonomy and inherent value.
While this is intuitive, the value of this study is that it collects a huge amount of evidence in one place. This includes a useful list of strategies for increasing psychological safety during interactions, including:
Listening. “When people are listened to well in dyadic conversations, they reciprocate by listening back to their conversation partner.”
Question asking. This works in many different contexts. For example, ”in speed-dating, individuals who asked their partners more questions were perceived with a more favorable attitude, and their interest was reciprocated by getting invited on more dates.”
Perspective taking. “Although adopting another’s perspective is one path to understanding them and providing them with psychological safety, this may not be a natural strategy people engage in, especially when others are dissimilar to the self.”
Quote of the Week
When the behavior that is reciprocated promotes psychological safety (e.g., asking questions to achieve a deeper understanding), the outcomes are very different from when the behavior that is reciprocated increases perceptions of threat (e.g., stating that one’s partner is “wrong”).