The impact of relational goals on political polarization

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


All people possess a fundamental motivation to form social relationships. People utilize those relationships in part to receive validation for their beliefs and attitudes about the world, including their political beliefs. However, there is also meaningful variation across people in the extent to which they chronically desire to build and maintain social connections with others. In this chapter, I review how these motivational processes contribute to the development and reinforcement of political polarization in societies. Specifically, I outline how political conservatives (those on the right) and liberals (those on the left) differ in the relational goals that they prioritize during everyday interactions, such that conservatives tend to more strongly value social connection and commonality whereas liberals tend to more strongly value uniqueness and individuality. I discuss how these motivations contribute to beliefs about the degree of attitude similarity within political groups, as well as the accuracy of those beliefs among both everyday citizens and political elites. I also discuss how these motivations impact the actual degree of attitude agreement that develops within political groups. Throughout the chapter, I outline how these processes lead both liberals and conservatives to directly contribute to political polarization, and what psychologically informed steps can be taken to address the increasing degree of polarization that is occurring throughout the world.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Psychology of Political Polarization
EditorsJan-Willem van Prooijen
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781000365504
ISBN (Print)9780367487171, 9780367487164
StatePublished - Mar 31 2021

Publication series

NameCurrent Issues in Social Psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology


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