One of the key components of our experiment is to investigate whether inducing empathy can encourage people to engage in dialogue that is more respectful and intellectually humble.
We are going to randomly assign half of the groups to receive perspective-taking instructions designed to encourage participants to be more open to people and ideas they disagree with. Within the commenting platforms, we will incorporate clear and consistent reminders that participants should imagine what their fellow citizens are feeling as they participate in the online exchange.
We have chosen to this approach for two main reasons.
First, good research demonstrates that inducing empathy through perspective-taking instructions can lead to less bias, better evaluations of others who are different, increases in helping others, less prejudice, and reductions in everyday bad behaviors. These findings suggest that empathy can play an important role in encouraging intellectually humble public discourse.
Second, these kinds of instructions are easy to adapt for an online commenting environment, which should make them attractive to news organizations.
We will also be field-testing a set of measures of intellectual humility in online environments. The goal is to develop both subjective measures of the participants’ experiences, and objective measures of the quality of the interactions people have when they comment online.