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Can Americans Depolarize? New Research Shows an Initiative that Draws on Couples Therapy Can Reduce Hostility Between Democrats and Republicans

June 9, 2021

Rob Blair and co-authors recently wrote, "Can Americans Depolarize? Assessing the Effects of Reciprocal Group Reflection on Partisan Polarization," a piece analyzing an experimental evaluation of a unique depolarization initiative that draws on principles of couples therapy to mitigate hostility between Democrats and Republicans. 


The American public is deeply polarized along partisan lines. Yet despite increasingly intense polarization and the threat it poses to American civic life, we know very little about ways to reduce it. We conducted an experimental evaluation of a unique depolarization initiative that draws on principles of couples therapy to mitigate hostility between Democrats and Republicans. In collaboration with Braver Angels, a non-governmental organization, we rigorously evaluated the impact of “Red/Blue” workshops on four college campuses. The workshops are designed to build empathy, dispel stereotypes, and promote mutual understanding across partisan lines.

We find that the workshops successfully reduced polarization as measured through surveys and implicit association tests (IATs). The workshops also increased participants’ willingness to donate to programs aimed at depolarizing political conversations among American youths—a behavioral measure of support for depolarization. These outcomes dissipate somewhat over time, but the effect on the behavioral measure persists after more than half a year. This finding is especially striking given that the period between the workshops and our last wave of data collection was characterized by a global pandemic, nationwide protests for racial justice, and a highly divisive presidential election. The effects also appear to hold across partisan groups.

An additional policy paper co-authored by Rob Blair is available HERE

Read the News from Brown article HERE