Listening to Understand: The Role of High-Quality Listening on Speakers’ Attitude Depolarization During Disagreements

Guy Itzchakov, Netta Weinstein, Mark Leary, Dvori Saluk, Moty Amar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Disagreements can polarize attitudes when they evoke defensiveness from the conversation partners. When a speaker talks, listeners often think about ways to counterargue. This process often fails to depolarize attitudes and might even backfire (i.e., the Boomerang effect). However, what happens in disagreements if one conversation partner genuinely listens to the other’s perspective? We hypothesized that when conversation partners convey high-quality listening—characterized by attention, understanding, and positive intentions—speakers will feel more socially comfortable and connected to them (i.e., positivity resonance) and reflect on their attitudes in a less defensive manner (i.e., have self-insight). We further hypothesized that this process reduces perceived polarization (perceived attitude change, perceived attitude similarity with the listener) and actual polarization (reduced attitude extremity). Four experiments manipulated poor, moderate, and high-quality listening using a video vignette (Study 1) and live interactions (Studies 2–4). The results consistently supported the research hypotheses and a serial mediation model in which listening influences depolarization through positivity resonance and nondefensive self-reflection. Most of the effects of the listening manipulation on perceived and actual depolarization generalized across indicators of attitude strength, specifically attitude certainty and attitude morality. These findings suggest that high-quality listening can be a valuable tool for bridging attitudinal and ideological divides.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Early online date2 Nov 2023
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Psychological Association

Keywords

  • attitude change
  • attitude depolarization
  • disagreements
  • listening
  • positivity resonance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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