Columbia University psychology professor Coleman (Making Conflict Work) offers a science-based guide to “escap[ing] the grip of partisan contempt” in the U.S. Contending that 50 years of escalating political tensions have led to a “mass national psychotic break” in which those on the right and those on the left “experience fundamentally different realities,” Coleman explores the cognitive reasons why people adopt rigid, overly simplistic ideologies when faced with the most complex and difficult challenges.

He draws on case studies in conflict resolution, including the de-escalation of tensions between activists for and against abortion rights in 1990s Boston, to explain how turning off the news when it becomes agitating, seeking out diverse perspectives, and placing divisive issues in a broader context can help create the “contradictory complexity” needed to disrupt hyperpolarization. The story of a group of diplomats who came up with novel solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after taking a bumpy bus ride together leads to a discussion of neuroplasticity and how physical movement can help people to find their way out of “entrenched patterns.”

Drawing from physics, psychology, and neuroscience, Coleman’s multidisciplinary approach yields fresh insights and reasons for hope. Policymakers and community activists will want to take note.

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