4 Tips for Bridging Political Divides

Polarization, dehumanization, demonization, and . . . belonging?

Jen Wilking


A large hand statue “holding up” a walking bridge
Photo by Aleksandr Barsukov on Unsplash

Geoffrey L. Cohen is a psychology professor at Stanford University.

His research focuses on addressing complex social problems by developing interventions that facilitate a sense of belonging and self-worth. In his new book Belonging: The Science of Creating Connection and Bridging Divides, he shares science-backed strategies for creating more inclusive experiences which increase the potential for learning, growth, and well-being.

Belonging is full of wisdom backed by research and experience, and it’s timely. The final chapter is about politics and bridging divides. Although the book surprised me many times, this line hit me the hardest.

A major force driving polarization, and the dehumanization and demonization that have accompanied it, is the desire to belong.
— Geoffrey L. Cohen

Mic drop.

Part of the reason people hate so vehemently is that they enjoy the sense of belonging in their groups. Further increasing the potential for escalation, people tend to react more aggressively when they’ve been rejected by others.

Shame and exclusion don’t change minds; they increase opposition.

Conflicting views are often received as a threat to worldview, a sense of belonging, and identity. In a series of studies in 2003, people expressed more allegiance to political parties than ideological beliefs when evaluating social policy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, two studies investigated what’s known as the “objectivity illusion” and its role in polarization. Objectivity illusion is the judging of your own side as objective, and the opposing side as biased. The studies found symmetry between Trump and Clinton supporters with both sides believing that their own side was rooted in fact, logic, and legitimate concerns, while the other side was based on misinformation, invalid arguments, and self-interest.

People tend to gather supporting evidence and reject conflicting information.

How Do We Bridge Our Divides?



Jen Wilking

Yoga & meditation teacher, physical therapist | Feel at home in your body, calm in your mind, & inspired to make an impact | https://jenwilking.com/