WE ARE ON A MISSION
To pave the way for democratic renewal in the United States and abroad
8.4% of the world’s population live in a full democracy while more than a third live under authoritarian rule. (Source: Democracy Index 2020, Economist Intelligence).
Democracy is under threat.
GOOD NEWS: DEMOCRACY IS RESILIENT.
History shows that democracy and the will of a people are deeply resilient. To meet this moment, there is an urgent need to better understand the psychological forces that shape our fears, anxieties, outrage, and distrust of each other.
• Rising support for authoritarianism in recent decades is reflected in high levels of extreme political polarization, which interfere with the ability to forge political compromise as a result of perceived threat, motive misattribution, meta-misperceptions, and collective blame.
• Exacerbated by a global pandemic, these dynamics have a corrosive impact on national capacities to solve consequential collective problems and actualize both electoral and democratic ideals. Still, we tend to misdiagnose drivers and symptoms of democratic decline, overestimating the role of mass polarization and underestimating that of social identity and identity-based conflict.
• Democratically elected governments are increasingly adopting authoritarian and polarizing tactics, bolstered by information echo chambers and identity-based residential and social segregation.
• According to a new report, The United States had been identified as a “backsliding democracy.” Backsliding democracies such as the US have a spillover effect and are attributed to the dismantling of the core norms and values of healthy democracies, with a definitive impact on electoral integrity and civic trust.
Pairing traditional methods for strengthening democracy with an understanding of the psychology of what drives us apart can expand our collective imagination and shift social and behavioral norms to build sustainable social cohesion and democratic legitimacy.
We work with leading social scientists to investigate the intersections of social identity, trauma, and sacred values to identify the drivers of toxic polarization, support for authoritarianism, and deepening social division. We then test our findings to determine scalable, context relevant approaches.
We develop interventions to reduce threat, political violence, dehumanization, and declining social trust to open cross-group dialogue and strengthen democratic behaviors essential to reducing the inclination toward authoritarian practice.
We assess our findings and ongoing learning to ensure our work aims to offer alternative frames to analyze the drivers and accordant solutions of democratic decline.
Our reports detail findings from our rigorous scientific research, presenting you with actionable, evidence-based recommendations and resources to understand and counter destructive, deepening division, and renew democracy in the US.
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CURRENT AND UPCOMING PROJECTS
Our research and programming is organized around three psychological underpinnings of democracy: (1) political tolerance; (2) support for the protection of civil liberties across all social identity groups; and, (3) public interest in participating in the process of government. Applying insights from, and developing innovations based in, brain and behavioral science is essential to resolving our current civic health crisis. To address these multifaceted challenges, Beyond Conflict combines relevant and rigorous applied research together with practitioner insights in a way that directly informs national-level policymaking and grassroots programming.
AMERICA’S DIVIDED MIND (ADM)
ADM explores the psychology of polarization and the core roles identity and perceptions play in our deepening divide. In addition to our ADM report in 2020, and its counterpart report, Renewing American Democracy, published in 2022, Beyond Conflict has developed and tested a series of media interventions designed to reduce toxic polarization. Among these include a video found by the Stanford Polarization and Social Change Lab to effectively reduce support for political violence, partisan animosity, and anti-democratic attitudes in a recent nationwide study. We continue to develop videos and online games to address misperceptions that Democrats and Republicans have on a series of issues and attitudes, including support for democratic norms, feelings of like and dislike, and dehumanization.
CONTESTED HISTORIES: Memory and Repair
In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, among others, Beyond Conflict is spearheading a multi-year US initiative focused on historical memory and repair. This effort aims to aggregate and identify the principles, processes, and best practices for contending with public memorials to and symbols of contested histories, ultimately producing context-specific, evidence-based processes for use by community leaders, institutions, historical commissions, and elected officials.
PSYCHOLOGICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF DEMOCRACY
Translating insights from clinical psychology, social psychology, and peacebuilding, this initiative explores how trauma—acute, chronic, and intergenerational—impacts the strategic and tactical choices of social movements. This includes efforts to expand understanding of the role of collective action in collective healing while distilling learning from brain and behavioral science to develop evidence-based guidance for use by advocates globally.
MOVEMENTS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
Beyond Conflict is constructing a novel, evidence-informed framework for increasing the effectiveness of democracy strengthening initiatives globally by focusing on the psychological underpinnings of democracy. A practical resource guide that translates the framework for use in programming will be developed for utilization by individuals and organizations planning, funding, and implementing related efforts.