A new study shows that the media can significantly reduce partisan bias by simply making the text more difficult to read. Researchers found that participants in two different studies became more moderate on issues of Muslim rights and capital punishment when they were forced to read an eye-straining, light-grey, vertically stretched front. “Not only are people considering more the opposing point of view but they’re also being more skeptical of their own because they’re more critically engaging both sides of the argument,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Jesse Preston.
It is hypothesized that eye strain disrupted our natural tendency to quickly scan for ideas that confirm our pre-existing prejudices. “We showed that if we can slow people down, if we can make them stop relying on their gut reaction – that feeling that they already know what something says – it can make them more moderate; it can have them start doubting their initial beliefs and start seeing the other side of the argument a little bit more,” explained graduate student, Ivan Hernandez.
The effect sizes of the intervention (more difficult text) are impressively large. In the study exploring capital punishment attitudes, those who were primed to have a positive bias toward the defendant, by reading more favorable materials, were 10 percent more likely to agree to a guilty verdict (48 percent vs. 58 percent) and those with a negative bias were 18 percent less likely to agree with a guilty verdict (78 percent vs. 60 percent).
In the study on the right to build a Mosque near the World Trade Center, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” attitudes of liberals and conservatives were judged on an 11-point scale, and the partisanship between the two decreased by 60 percent in the difficult-to-read portion of the study.
So, to all those designers making websites prettier: stop it. You’re ruining America.