Character  &  Context

Psychology News Round-Up (November 7th)

Image of newspapers shaped to spell the word News

By Dave Nussbaum

This week marks the inaugural edition of our In the News feature. Our goal is to provide a synopsis of notable articles along with a link to the whole story to help keep our readers abreast of the news. This week we begin with Leaf van Boven and David Sherman’s New York Times election day article on misperceptions of polarization and Paul Slovic’s Washington Post piece on the psychology of risk perception and Ebola policies. The latter was contributed by Richie LeDonne (@richienwl). If you are interested in joining the team, we’ll be looking for motivated graduate students to contribute stories in the coming weeks. Contact us at for more information.

Misperceiving Partisan Polarization

In Tuesday’s New York Times, Leaf van Boven and David Sherman write about the mistaken impression we have of political polarization. While they acknowledge that polarization exists, and the gap between liberals and conservatives is as wide as it’s ever been, it’s still narrower than people imagine it to be. When asked to estimate the positions of voters in the two parties, people imagine a divide that’s twice as large as the one that really exists. More importantly, the people who estimate the largest partisan divide are people who are themselves the most polarized. This is particularly problematic, van Boven and Sherman argue, because it’s the same people who massively overestimate polarization who are also particularly active in politics.

More on politics and psychology leads of the twitter section below…

Ebola and the Psychology of Risk Perception

Paul Slovic, who has been studying the psychology of risk perception since the 1970s, writes about Americans’ over-reaction to the Ebola virus in the Washington Post. In the U.S. the threat of Ebola is relatively low, yet many Americans fear that they or their loved ones are at risk. People’s perception of risk relies on gut feelings, such as dread, which can skew people’s ability to make reasonable assessments of a threat. Skewed perceptions of risk can result in actions or policies that have greater economic consequences than the actual threat, but may sometimes be necessary given people’s psychological tendencies. The response to Ebola needs to consider not only the costs and benefits of dealing with the disease, but balance them with the impact that policies will have on risk perception as well.

In a world full of ambiguity, we see what we want to see | | A cool article by @tomvanderbilt for @NautilusMag — Jay Van Bavel (@jayvanbavel) November 7, 2014 

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