Think before you speak - key to better arguments revealed

  • Date

    Tue 14 Feb 23

Paul Hanel

Reflecting on values before discussing controversial topics like politics makes debates friendly and happier, new University of Essex research reveals.

A new interdisciplinary study has found reflecting on life values such as freedom or equality before a discussion can enhance willingness to listen to others and engage in conversation.

This is because it inspires ‘intellectual humility’, increases awareness of their own fallibility, and sparks an openness to others’ views.

The Department of Psychology's Dr Paul Hanel, co-lead for the study said: “We are often told that we live in a polarised world where having the ‘wrong’ view about topics will get you shouted down before you have a chance to finish.

“This research suggests that polarisation might be exaggerated and by pausing to reflect on personal values before engaging in these kinds of conversations, our interactions could become more harmonious.”

Roughly 61% of participants who reflected on their values first showed more humility compared to the average person who was not given this task.

The paper, published in the Royal Open Science Journal, suggests hope for a world with conflicting opinions - with debates online and offline becoming friendlier if people reflect on their important values.

This research was conducted by psychologists at the University of Bath along with philosophers and linguists at Cardiff University.

There were 303 participants divided into groups which discussed the merits of charging tuition fees for education; these were recorded, coded, and analysed.

Before the debate, half were asked to write about the life values they considered important.

Co-author, Professor Greg Maio, Head of Psychology at the University of Bath, added: “The vitriol online doesn’t have to occur. Participants having the opportunity to reflect on values found an improvement in engagement with discussions.

“In the future, we would like to see if this kind of value reflection also works online.”

This research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

This article was written by third year Media and Digital Culture student Amber Gent