To change attitudes, don’t argue — agree, extremely

Scientists tried this recently and discovered that agreeing with people can be a surprisingly powerful way to shake up strongly held beliefs.

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Researchers found that showing people extreme versions of ideas that confirmed – not contradicted – their opinions on a deeply divisive issue actually caused them to reconsider their stance and become more receptive to other points of view.

The scientists attribute this to the fact that the new information caused people to see their views as irrational or absurd, according to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We truly believe that in most intractable conflicts, the real problems are not the real issues,” said Eran Halperin, a psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel and an author of the study. In reality, he said, both sides know what needs to be done; however, there are many “psychological barriers that prevent societies from identifying opportunities for peace.”

To see if tightly held attitudes could be pried loose, the scientists looked to one of the most polarizing issues on the planet, the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that flared again violently last week. People on both sides hold strong beliefs that make compromise difficult, as years of failed negotiations have proved.

“You take people’s most basic beliefs and turn them into something that is absurd,

The scientists, led by Halperin’s graduate students Boaz Hameiri and Roni Porat, recruited more than 150 Israelis and exposed half of them to video clips that related the conflict with Palestinians back to values that many Israelis hold dear. The other half watched neutral TV commercials and served as a control.

But instead of pointing out how the conflict stood at odds with Israeli values _ a common approach in persuasion _ the experimental videos illustrated how the conflict was consistent with many participants’ beliefs, taken to their extreme limit.

“For example, the fact that they are the most moral society in the world is one of the most basic beliefs of Israeli society,” Halperin said. So when the researchers showed participants a video that claimed Israel should continue the conflict so that its citizens could continue to feel moral, people reacted angrily.

“You take people’s most basic beliefs and turn them into something that is absurd,” Halperin said. “For an outsider, it can sound like a joke, but for them, you are playing with their most fundamental belief.”

Although participants did not enjoy watching the clips, after numerous rounds of exposure over a period of months leading up to the 2013 Israeli elections, participants’ attitudes softened considerably; they reported almost a 30 percent increase in their willingness to re-evaluate their position compared with participants in the control group and took a more neutral stance on common political narratives like the idea that Palestinians bear responsibility for continuing the conflict. This shift persisted even a year after the study concluded.

Numerous studies have shown that confronting people with information that challenges their beliefs often has no effect at all

In addition, when the election rolled around, more people exposed to the so-called paradoxical thinking experiment reported voting for moderate parties _ those that favor conciliatory measures like evacuating some Israeli settlements in the West Bank _ suggesting the intervention led not just to changed attitudes, but also to changed behavior.

Traditional approaches for dislodging strongly held attitudes have proved stubbornly ineffective; numerous studies have shown that confronting people with information that challenges their beliefs often has no effect at all, or even strengthens their initial position.

But in this study paradoxical thinking seemed to encourage some people to privately re-evaluate their strongly held beliefs or political narratives, authors said. It may succeed precisely because it sneaks through the psychological security system that protects our deepest beliefs from inconsistent information without tripping the alarm.

The scientists say the method needs further validation in the lab, and they noted several glaring issues that made applying it to real-world situations difficult.

For one, there was the “motivation problem”: How do you get people to watch videos they find disturbing? Outside of a lab setting, nothing would force people to sit through more than one or two clips, which probably wouldn’t produce the same effects found in the study, Halperin said.

There is also a risk of backfire _- some people in the study took the videos at face value, assimilating the extreme messages into their personal beliefs. And, of course, nothing would stop governments or organizations from employing the same technique to promote their own agendas.

In fact, because the people who receive the paradoxical information know nothing about its intended purpose – an integral component to the method’s very success – the approach treads into ethically questionable territory.

“We are not supposed to fool participants,” said Gavriel Salomon, a psychologist at the University of Haifa who was not involved in the study. “But the paradoxical approach is still open to ethical debate.”

Halperin, however, sees paradoxical thinking as a potentially valuable tool for promoting peace.

“You can say it’s a kind of propaganda,” Halperin said, “I just see it differently. We all agree that reducing violence and promoting peace is a good cause.”

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by MCT Information Services

MH17: Two fighter jets shot down near crash site, Ukraine says

Two Ukrainian fighter jets shot down in the rebel-held area where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed were hit by missiles fired from Russian soil, Ukraine’s military said.

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“The rockets were launched from Russian territory,” Kiev’s National Security and Defence Council said in a statement on Wednesday.

The planes came down close to the village of Dmytrivka, some 45 kilometres south-east of the MH17 crash site, towards the Russian border, as they were providing air support for government infantry, the statement said.

The security council added that the Su-25 jets were flying at an altitude of 5200 metres.

Pro-Russian rebels have insisted on several occasions that they were not equipped with weapons capable of hitting targets above an altitude of 2500 metres.

However, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic told AFP its fighters had shot down the two aircraft.

Kiev’s National Security and Defence Council spokesperson, Andriy Lysenko, said Pro-Russian rebels could not have shot down the plane because it was “shot down very professionally”.

“They were shot down very professionally. The terrorists do not have such professionals,” he told Reuters.

Pentagon said it cannot independently confirm downing of two planes.

An AFP crew trying to reach the scene were turned back by rebels who fired shots near their car some 10 kilometres from Dmytrivka.

The press office for Kiev’s military campaign against the insurgents had earlier blamed “pro-Russian bandits” fighting in Ukraine for downing the jets.

The pilots from both jets managed to parachute out, it said, giving no further details about their condition.

The downing of the government jets comes just six days after the insurgents were accused of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane using a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board.

The rebels have denied that they attacked flight MH17 as it flew at some 10,000 metres, accusing the Ukrainian military of being responsible for hitting the jet.

Pro-Russian rebels battling government troops in the east had previously taken out a string of Ukrainian military aircraft during their 15-week insurgency.

Kiev alleged last week that an airforce transport plane was shot down from across the Russian frontier, while another Su-25 jet was gunned down by a Russian plane.

The latest incident came after a ceasefire was declared by both sides in the immediate vicinity of the Boeing 777 crash site, where Malaysian experts and international monitors are examining the airliner’s wreckage.

Earlier, the first 40 bodies recovered from MH17 were flown out of the government-held city of Kharkiv, bound for Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Hundreds call for justice for US man killed by police chokehold

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton led hundreds of mourners in demands for justice at the funeral for a black father of six who died after being choked by New York police.

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Eric Garner, 43, suffered a fatal heart attack on July 17 after being tackled by white officers for allegedly selling illegal cigarettes on Staten Island, a borough of New York City.

   

In a video captured by a local resident, whom Sharpton invited onto the podium, Garner cries out repeatedly that he cannot breathe as an officer grips him in a chokehold.

   

Garner, wearing shorts and unarmed, is shown arguing with two officers before one grabs him round the neck, wrestles him to the ground and another presses down his face.

   

“When you can in broad daylight choke one of God’s children, God expects us to stand up and demand justice,” Sharpton told the packed Bethel Baptist Church.

   

“The choke hold is illegal but even if you lost your training memory, a man in your arms saying ‘I can’t breathe’? When does your decency kick in? When does your morality kick in?” demanded Sharpton, also a minister and lately a news broadcaster.

   

Sharpton called for the two officers to be prosecuted and for a federal investigation in an emotional speech that was greeted by a standing ovation and loud cheers from the congregation, including Garner’s closest relatives.

   

“We’re going to demand justice,” said Sharpton. “Don’t bow down, we’ve got to win,” he said.

   

Friends, relatives, clergy, activists from Sharpton’s National Action Network and a handful of black city council officers crowded into the church for the funeral, fighting off the sticky summer heat with hand-held fans.

   

Relatives prostrated themselves in grief over Garner’s open coffin before the lid was closed at the start of the service, a wreath of yellow and white flowers on top.

   

Public advocate Letitia James said the city would demand justice for Garner’s death, promising a full investigation of all chokeholds and complaints against police.

   

The case spotlights not only racial tensions in America’s most liberal city but has sharpened calls for police reform under New York mayor Bill de Blasio.

   

De Blasio, who took office in January, is currently on a family vacation in Italy.

   

The district attorney’s office is leading a criminal investigation and both police officers have been assigned to desk duty pending the investigation, police said.

   

New York police chief Bill Bratton has also ordered all city officers to be retrained in the use of force.

   

Chokeholds are illegal because of concerns over potential deaths.

Lions keen to sink rising Suns

The Brisbane Lions have vowed to atone for their “worst loss of the year” by derailing the Gold Coast’s AFL finals tilt in Saturday’s QClash.

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Livewire Dayne Zorko has admitted Brisbane’s 53-point round three defeat to the Suns still stings and they’re determined to repay them in kind at the Gabba.

Although Zorko is a Gold Coast product, he said the Lions would like nothing less than sinking the ninth-placed side’s finals hopes.

“If we’re not playing finals then we definitely don’t want the Gold Coast playing finals,” he said on Thursday. “It would be great for Queensland football but we want to be the dominant side in Queensland.”

The Suns completely dominated their last meeting at Metricon Stadium to end a five-game losing streak against their big brother.

Lions coach Justin Leppitsch put the demoralising defeat under the microscope again this week to ensure his youthful side lifts their intensity and hunger on Saturday.

“Leppa said it was our worst loss of the year,” Zorko said. “We’ve looked at the areas that Gold Coast really got on top of us.

“This weekend we’re going to go out and focus on the areas they beat us last time, which was contested ball and that’s probably been one of our weaker points all year.”

Suns defender Steven May set the tone back then when he pulled off a huge shirtfront on Zorko in the first quarter.

Zorko had no complaints and expected the derby to push the limits of physicality.

“The QClash is a different game to any other game I believe,” he said. “Game plans go out the window pretty early on and it’s whoever is hardest at the ball and really gets into the contest first.”

Meantime, the Lions have added another player to their long injury list with Mitch Golby expected to miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.

Golby, who has suffered two stress fractures to his left foot, was in a moon boot at training on Thursday and will see a specialist on Friday.

Ukraine crash a vexed issue for Abbott

Tony Abbott is no stranger to Ukraine, having travelled there during his Oxford days in the 1980s.

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Three decades on, the prime minister has found himself squarely focused on the eastern European nation where up to 39 Australians are among the 298 dead in the MH17 disaster.

His initial response to the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 has been widely praised both in Australia and internationally.

Politically, it is being seen as something of a watershed in terms of the former opposition headkicker growing into the prime ministerial role almost 12 months into the top job.

As tragic and terrible it is for the families and friends of the victims and Ukrainians still facing the daily prospect of death and destruction at the hands of pro-Russian separatists, it may be a domestic political game-changer for the coalition.

The Abbott government faces a dire position in the wake of unpopular budget measures such as the GP co-payment and fuel tax hike.

Having repealed the carbon tax, it still faces huge problems trying to convince the Senate and its 18-member crossbench to pass billions of dollars in budget cuts and deliver on key election promises.

But like John Howard before him, who was in Washington during the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, Abbott has embraced the role of comforter while at the same time expressing the nation’s sense of anger and despair.

Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop rightly championed a UN Security Council resolution to ensure proper access to the crash site and the respectful and professional treatment of bodily remains.

The sight of coffins being loaded into Dutch and Australian aircraft, after days wondering whether the rickety train carrying them would make it out of separatist-held Ukraine, must have been a blessing for the families of victims.

It’s also reassuring to know that Australia’s most skilled forensic experts are now in the Netherlands helping with the identification and seeking answers to the who, how and why of the terrible crime.

What happens next might be just as crucial as the initial government response, both in political and global security terms.

If investigators can’t get reasonable access to the crash site because of ongoing fighting in the region in which the aircraft went down, public attention will turn to how Australia and other countries plan to enforce the UN resolution.

To date, neither NATO nor the United States and its allies, such as Australia, have shown an adequate interest in staving off the strongarm tactics of the Russian-backed separatists.

Abbott himself admitted Australia bodies and belongings may still be lying in the looted fields of eastern Ukraine.

The success or failure of Operation Bring Them Home, as it has been dubbed, will have political consequences.

From another perspective, the plane shooting in the context of the Ukrainian conflict is a demonstration of global issues not being taken as seriously as they should.

It brings into question the coalition’s previously bitter disdain for the bid of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard for an Australian seat on the security council.

Without that seat, Abbott and Bishop would not have had the platform to voice Australia’s views and seek the reassurance and justice the victims deserve.

What’s more, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is being gutted just when Australia needs more feet on the ground in countries such as the Ukraine where our interests have not been focused.

The aid and development budget may yet face further cuts if other budget measures can’t be secured.

Then there is the question of whether Russian President Vladimir Putin should have his G20 summit invitation torn up, given his nation’s culpability in supplying missiles to the separatists.

The G7 sidelined him in June as a sign of anger over the start of the Ukrainian offensive.

Despite Russia supporting the security council resolution, Putin is considered by many Australians to be a bully and a pariah.

Summit host Abbott has declined to engage in the debate yet, but he may need to start thinking about it soon especially if Russian bombs start obliterating the 50 square kilometre crash site.