Complex Answers to a Simple Question: Is Integrative Complexity “Politically Correct”?
From The Social Psychologists: Research Adventures ed. Gary G. Brannigan, Matthew R. Merrens
By: Philip E. Tetlock
Scientists are supposed to be dedicated to the truth—even if they ﬁnd it distasteful
This is why political psychology is difficult
• Not the subject matter, but the character of its practitioners
• Need openness to evidence that may overrun important assumptions
• Hard to say you’re wrong; worse with emotionally/politically charged issues
Tabula rasa model of political psychologist is wrong
• Have political preconceptions/prejudices
• Tend to be liberal
Like egalitarian social policies, detest racism, sceptical of use of force in IR, suspicious of justiﬁcations for war
Is it possible to do rigorous scientiﬁc research on topics that touch one’s deepest moral and political feelings?
Tetlock special interest in social and political reasoning
Wanted to study it, but needed to get beyond rating scales to natural language—but how?
Discovered Peter Suedfeld’s content analysis, in particular the integrative complexity coding system
- Ignore what people are saying and focus on how they say it
- Some think there is only one way to think about a topic
- Others more open minded and see room for reasonable people to disagree
Lowest level of complexity scale (score of 1) responses show no tolerance for other ways of looking at the world
(low evaluative differentiation) for both pro-choice and pro-life arguments:
Abortion is about freedom of choice and feminism.
Abortion is infanticide.
Score 2 and 3 in complexity scale shows greater tolerance for alternative views:
I am pro-choice but ﬁnd abortion peronsally and morally repugnant; I recognize not everyone agrees and I don’t
have a right to impose my personal philosophy on other people
Score levels of 4 and 5 have active attempts to explain how disagreements might have arisen, or speciﬁcation
for how to reconcile conﬂicting perspectives
Some people see abortion as murder; some as fundamental civil liberty—it’s all about how they look at the fetus;
when should we grant a fetus the rights we grant to human beings? Compromise is the point of viability outside
The highest score levels in integrative complexity coding (6 – 7) shows emergence to integrate conﬂicting values,
but also emergence of ﬂexible, complex combinatorial principles
Some people see abortion as murder; some as a fundamental civil liberty. There are lots of issues inﬂuencing which
position you take including bio-medical, ethical, and legal-constitutional. People can disagree on any or all of
these issues—it’s not an all or nothing position.
Training people to assess integrative complexity usually requires a weeklong workshop
- Recognize linguistic indicators of differentiation
o But, however, although
- Linguistic indicators of integration
o Mutual, joint, balancing, trade-offs
Must also be objective: low-complexity doesn’t mean bad guys and high-complexity is not the good guys.
Most coders have been liberals, but Tetlock needed to ensure no political bias in codes that people assigned
- One coder refused to be “duped” by high-complexity Republican speech; claimed she would not “reward” him
with a high score
- Two problems:
o Thought she was seeing into his state of mind
o Thought of high-complexity as better than low-complexity
Early work on integrative complexity illustrates law of the hammer—give a child a hammer and everything looks like a
Didn’t contemplate “normative questions” about how people should think, but rather how they do think, and needed to
- No limit to range of applications—diplomatic communications, revolutionary leaders, household arguments Discovered a variety of things:
- Types of situations that motivate people to be more or less complex
- Types of people more likely to be more complex on average
- Consequences of integrative complexity
o does high complexity make you a better decision maker or judge of character?
Academics tend to believe that high complexity is better—devalue simplicity
Reinforced by many early ﬁndings
- national leaders with high complexity less likely to go to war
integrative simplicity the language of war
o complexity plinge in months before the war
- integrative xomplecity tend