A Multidisciplinary Understanding of Polarization

American Psychologist 74:301-314 (2019)
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This article aims to describe the last 10 years of the collaborative scientific endeavors on polarization in particular and collective problem-solving in general by our multidisciplinary research team. We describe the team’s disciplinary composition—social psychology, political science, social philosophy/epistemology, and complex systems science— highlighting the shared and unique skill sets of our group members and how each discipline contributes to studying polarization and collective problem-solving. With an eye to the literature on team dynamics, we describe team logistics and processes that we believe make our multidisciplinary team persistent and productive. We emphasize challenges and difficulties caused by disciplinary differences in terms of terminology, units/levels of analysis, methodology, and theoretical assumptions. We then explain how work disambiguating the concepts of polarization and developing an integrative theoretical and methodological framework with complex systems perspectives has helped us overcome these challenges. We summarize the major findings that our research has produced over the past decade, and describe our current research and future directions. Last, we discuss lessons we have learned, including difficulties in a “three models” project and how we addressed them, with suggestions for effective multidisciplinary team research.

Author Profiles

William J. Berger
University of Pennsylvania
Karen Kovaka
University of Pennsylvania
Bennett Holman
Yonsei University
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