Pluralistic conditioning: social tolerance and effective democracy

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Dunn, K ; Singh, SP (2014)
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

Modern democracy is based in dissent and diversity. The essential defining aspect of democracy is the existence of competitive and fair elections; an element which emphasizes diversity of opinion and serves to place one party (or group of parties) in power, while relegating the other(s) to dissent. The diversity inherent to democratic systems instills in a country's inhabitants an awareness of difference, which in turn propagates more tolerant individuals. In autocratic regimes, expression of diversity is restrained, being considered the basis of disorder and thereby detrimental to the state. In liberal democratic societies, freedom of expression and speech and a free media are widely accepted principles. Political parties and social groups in liberal democratic societies are therefore able to express varied and opposing opinions on societal concerns, and such opinions are broadcast to large swaths of the population. Exposure to such variety indicates to even the most inattentive of individuals that they reside in a diverse and heterogeneous society. For many individuals, exposure to diversity promotes tolerance of difference. While diversity tends to breed tolerance, there is a critical exception to this generality. Exposure to diversity only facilitates tolerance of difference when such exposure occurs under positive or neutral conditions. Those who are exposed to diversity under aversive conditions are instead pushed toward intolerance of difference. Our thesis in this article is thus one of pluralistic conditioning. In general, when individuals are exposed to diversity under positive or neutral conditions, they become more tolerant of diversity. However, when individuals are exposed to diversity under aversive conditions, they become less tolerant of difference. This thesis unites findings from multiple disciplines under a single theoretical framework.
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