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The Psychology of Political Polarization

Lecture Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Peter Ditto

Peter Ditto

The hyper-partisan nature of contemporary American politics is a major roadblock to effective compromise between Democrats and Republicans and an important contributor to rampant distrust of government in the U.S.  I identify three factors that contribute to our polarized political environment by describing how 1) genuine differences in the moral sensibilities of liberals and conservatives have become infused into political culture, which leads to 2) biased interpretations of political events and information, that are 3) reinforced by a politically-segmented and sensationalist media environment. Each of these processes (moralization, factualization and socialization) are fairly typical outcomes of intergroup conflict, but have been exacerbated by technological advances and are open to exploitation by political actors interested in promoting partisan animosities for political gain. The shortest part of my talk will focus on the hardest part of the problem: what we all can do to promote more civil and more rational political discourse.


Peter Ditto is Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Ditto received his B.A. from UCLA in 1982, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1986, both in psychology. After a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, he was a faculty member at Kent State University until moving to UCI in 1997. Dr. Ditto is an experimental social psychologist whose expertise is in human judgment and decision making. His research has been published in top scientific journals such as Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, and Science, and focuses on “hot cognition” – how motivation, intuition, and emotion shape (and often bias) our social, political, moral, medical, and legal judgments. Dr. Ditto is a co-founder of the data collection website and serves on the board of advisors for His current research is focused on partisan bias, political polarization, and the moral and psychological underpinnings of the “culture war” in contemporary American politics.


WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion
716 Stevens Avenue
Portland, ME 04103

Assigned Reading

Ditto, P. H., & Liu, B. S., "Moral coherence and political conflict." In P. Valdesolo & J. Graham  (Eds.), Social psychology of political polarization (pp. 102-122). (New York: Routledge, 2016)


5 p.m. in the UNE Art Gallery (Portland Campus)


(207) 221-4435

The Psychology of Political Polarization Lecture Poster
6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public