Can Observing Others' Actions Help Prevent Polarization?: Results from Laboratory Experiments

45 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2023 Last revised: 19 Apr 2024

See all articles by Kiichiro Arai

Kiichiro Arai

Chuo University

Yasushi Asako

Waseda University

Airo Hino

Waseda University

So Morikawa

University of Tokyo - Department of Civil Engineering

Date Written: March 31, 2023

Abstract

Polarization has been studied extensively in recent years in political science and the growing literature has attempted to elucidate a mechanism for how polarization occurs, be it ideological or effective. Yet, the political science literature has so far largely neglected a more fundamental and underlying mechanism of polarization, namely “belief polarization”. “Belief polarization” can occur even if common public interests are shared among people, contrary to preference polarization which is driven by conflicting preferences held by people, and it is generated by differential initial signals of private information. We demonstrate this mechanism through laboratory experiments by deliberately removing political contexts and investigating whether revealing others’ actions can or cannot prevent it. Theoretically, if people can infer others’ private information through their actions, it can prevent polarization for a policy that has common interests. Our experiments have the following implications. First, when we reveal others’ actions to allow everyone to see the distribution of beliefs only once, polarization does not occur in the short run, but occurs and increases in the long run. Second, when others’ actions are revealed in all rounds of experiments, polarization does not occur. However, if participants think that others have insufficient information, polarization persists—even when others’ actions are revealed in all rounds. We discuss the implications of our findings in real-world settings including COVID-19 vaccination and cross-cutting views on social media.

Keywords: belief polarization, laboratory experiments, asymmetric information, cross-cutting views on social media

JEL Classification: C92, D72, D82, D83

Suggested Citation

Arai, Kiichiro and Asako, Yasushi and Hino, Airo and Morikawa, So, Can Observing Others' Actions Help Prevent Polarization?: Results from Laboratory Experiments (March 31, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4322971 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4322971

Kiichiro Arai

Chuo University ( email )

No Address Available
Japan

Yasushi Asako (Contact Author)

Waseda University ( email )

1-6-1 Nishi-Waseda
Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, Tokyo 169-8050
Japan

HOME PAGE: http://www.yasushiasako.com/

Airo Hino

Waseda University ( email )

So Morikawa

University of Tokyo - Department of Civil Engineering ( email )

Yayoi 1-1-1
Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo, Tokyo 113-8657
Japan

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