The experiment


This project is novel in its ambition to explore the potential of representation-centric platforms and empathy inducement to improve the intellectual humility of dialogue in online news commentary. The field experiment will recruit ordinary citizens who usually read online news and randomly assign them to experience different online news environments.

The representation-centric platforms, Deliberatorium and, have been chosen because early pilots suggest their potential to cultivate intellectually humble dialogue, and they are designed to promote different forms of discussion. Deliberatorium is more restrictive in its requirements of relatively dispassionate reason-giving; more open to a broader range of dialogue types and potentially a more emotional understanding of the perspective of others.

The experiment will investigate the role of empathy by randomly assigning half of the groups to receive perspective-taking instructions aimed at inducing participants to be more open to people and ideas with which they disagree.

The project will also field-test a set of measures for investigating intellectual humility in online environments.

We thus test the ability of the online platform (environment), a psychological intervention (individual instructions), and the interaction of the two, to promote intellectual humility.

Barcelona meeting


At the end of June, the core research team – Graham Smith, Michael Morrell and Paolo Spada – met for the first time face-to-face rather than virtually. The meeting established a preliminary timeline. We aim to have an initial platform ready for October to begin user testing, which will end user testing by Christmas. That means by March we can have updated the platform and start the experiment. We also discussed at length the role of comment moderators. Should moderation be ex-ante? Many media comment platforms moderate contributors’ initial comments before they go live to ensure they are respectful and understand the rules of the platform. Depending on the level of comments, we should be able to do that with one facilitator for the European Time Zone and facilitator for the US time zone. The deliberatorium has generally been used with ex-ante facilitation whereas is thinking about crowd moderation. We are weighing up the options. Do you have any evidence that could help us?

10 Projects, 1 Goal: Find Ways to Cultivate Healthier Public Disourse

In February 2017, the Scholio project was awarded funding as part of a new $2 million fellowship grant program sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute and funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Scholio is one of 10 innovative projects that were selected to explore the broken landscape of American discourse and create enduring strategies to spur and sustain open-minded, reasonable and well-informed debate and dialogue.

The 10 interdisciplinary research projects focus on balancing two key features of democracy: intellectual humility and conviction of belief. Carefully curated out of an applicant pool of 110, not only for their individual merits, but also because they work in complementary fashion, each project will investigate how networks and institutions meant to connect us may be pushing people apart.

“Arrogance is easy in politics; humility is hard. These projects aim to rekindle the sense that we can learn from each other, and thus to help us restore a more meaningful public discourse,”

says Michael P. Lynch, director of the Humanities Institute and Principal Investigator of the Humility and Conviction in Public Life project.

More information about the funded projects can be found here

The project


The public sphere around media outlets offers many examples of dysfunctional behaviours that undermine the quality of public discourse. This is particularly the case with online public comments sections on news sites that attract thousands of people every day.

Can re-designing comments platforms promote more reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue? This is the question the Scholio project aims to explore, through a large-scale field experiment.

The field experiment will recruit ordinary citizens who read online news and randomly assign them to experience different perspective-taking instructions and platforms that organise and visualise comments in different ways. The project will also field-test a set of measures for investigating intellectual humility in online environments.

The aim of the Scholio project is to develop a scalable model for how news media institutions, and others, can incorporate comment platforms that promote reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue.

Scholio is one of 10 projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation within the broader Humility and Conviction in Public Life programme at the University of Connecticut.

The project runs for two years from 1 March 2017.