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Journal Articles European Journal of Political Research Year : 2022

Reflective political reasoning: Political disagreement and empathy


As political polarization increases across many of the world's established democracies, many citizens are unwilling to appreciate and consider the viewpoints of those who disagree with them. Previous research shows that this lack of reflection can undermine democratic accountability. The purpose of this paper is to study whether empathy for the other can motivate people to reason reflectively about politics. Extant studies have largely studied trait-level differences in the ability and inclination of individuals to engage in reflection. Most of these studies focus on observational moderators, which makes it difficult to make strong claims about the effects of being in a reflective state on political decision making. We extend this research by using a survey experiment with a large and heterogeneous sample of UK citizens (N = 2014) to investigate whether a simple empathy intervention can induce people to consider opposing viewpoints and incorporate those views in their opinion about a pressing political issue. We find that actively imagining the feelings and thoughts of someone one disagrees with prompts more reflection in the way that people reason about political issues as well as elicits empathic feelings of concern towards those with opposing viewpoints. We further examine whether empathy facilitates openness to attitude change in the counter-attitudinal direction and find that exposure to an opposing perspective (without its empathy component) per se is enough to prompt attitude change. Our study paints a more nuanced picture of the relationship between empathy, reflection and policy attitudes.

Dates and versions

hal-03522613 , version 1 (12-01-2022)


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Lala Muradova, Kevin Arceneaux. Reflective political reasoning: Political disagreement and empathy. European Journal of Political Research, 2022, 61 (3), pp.740-761. ⟨10.1111/1475-6765.12490⟩. ⟨hal-03522613⟩
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