Exaggerated meta-perceptions predict intergroup hostility between American political partisans

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jun 30;117(26):14864-14872. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2001263117. Epub 2020 Jun 11.


People's actions toward a competitive outgroup can be motivated not only by their perceptions of the outgroup, but also by how they think the outgroup perceives the ingroup (i.e., meta-perceptions). Here, we examine the prevalence, accuracy, and consequences of meta-perceptions among American political partisans. Using a representative sample (n = 1,056) and a longitudinal convenience sample (n = 2,707), we find that Democrats and Republicans equally dislike and dehumanize each other but think that the levels of prejudice and dehumanization held by the outgroup party are approximately twice as strong as actually reported by a representative sample of Democrats and Republicans. Overestimations of negative meta-perceptions were consistent across samples over time and between demographic subgroups but were modulated by political ideology: More strongly liberal Democrats and more strongly conservative Republicans were particularly prone to exaggerate meta-perceptions. Finally, we show that meta-prejudice and meta-dehumanization are independently associated with the desire for social distance from members of the outgroup party and support for policies that harm the country and flout democratic norms to favor the ingroup political party. This research demonstrates that partisan meta-perceptions are subject to a strong negativity bias with Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the shadow of partisanship is much larger than it actually is, which fosters mutual intergroup hostility.

Keywords: dehumanization; ideological polarization; meta-perceptions; political polarization; prejudice.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Dehumanization
  • Female
  • Hostility*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Motivation
  • Politics*
  • Prejudice
  • United States