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Science Friday, November 2nd 2012 at 4:00 pm

Bipartisanship Could Be Achieved By Printing Everything In Papyrus, Not Worth It

Even in an election season, most politicians can agree on one thing: partisan gridlock is tearing this country apart. Of course, what most of them mean by this is “I’m right and everyone who doesn’t agree with me should shut the mouth and get in line,” but still — it’s a start. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois may have a way to kickstart more moderate views…but at a grave cost. It turns out people with strong political beliefs are less likely to hold onto their biases when they are forced to read about matters in a hard to read font, meaning all you would really have to do to make everyone agree on middle of the road decisions is print everything in Papyrus.

To test whether a hard-to-read font would make people less partisan, researchers had liberals and conservatives read an overtly political argument on the subject of capital punishment. While subjects from both sides of the aisle were polarized by the article when they read it in an easy to understand font, the team found that reading the argument in a difficult to read font — one which made subjects slow down and work harder to understand the information being presented — brought both liberals and conservatives closer to the middle of the road.

The study shows that hard to read fonts can disrupt what’s known as “confirmation bias,” or the tendency to agree with points of view similar to those you already hold. When an argument has to be really worked through, researchers believe, people are not only more likely to consider the opinions of people on the other side — they are also more likely to think critically about their own preconceived notions. Both of those are admirable goals for American political life. So if the only thing we need to do is run more ballot initiatives and referendums in Comic Sans…nope, sorry, can’t do it. We’ll take political gridlock, thanks.

(via PhysOrg, image courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner)

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