Specifically, Resnick wrote about what psychologists Feinberg and Willer found in their research on moral arguments.
In a series of six studies, Willer and a co-author found that when conservative policies are framed around liberal values like equality or fairness, liberals become more accepting of them. The same was true of liberal policies recast in terms of conservative values like respect for authority.It's kind of funny that the research is reported as a new finding, because much of what Feinberg and Willer found describes the learning objectives of a strong writing program. Resnick frames their findings this way:
Whenever we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed. On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, "No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America." And they think other people will find this compelling, too. Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." What both sides fail to understand is that they're arguing a point that their opponents have not only already dismissed but may be inherently deaf to.When the discipline of rhetoric was developed about 2300 years ago, one of the most basic principles was the rhetorical triangle. During the two millenniums it's been in use, the rhetorical triangle has seen some changes, but the idea remains the same:
There are a number of interactive factors that impact the way a message is heard, and if a person wants a specific message to influence a specific audience, all of those factors should be taken into consideration.
If you accept the principle above, then Feinberg and Willer's findings should not come as a surprise.
When you boil it down, those factors that influence how a message impacts an audience are the most important subjects of inquiry in Rhetoric & Composition.
It is what we do.
And we've been doing it pretty well for a long time.
So, sure, it is nice to see scholars in psychology confirm what has been the bedrock of our discipline for thousands of years.
That is exactly what researchers in psychology should do. No one in Rhetoric & Composition would dream of standing in the way of such helpful research. In fact, since the research procedure involved participants actually writing down their arguments, I hope maybe some of the studies' methods could make their way into my research.
But it is a bit troubling when a science reporter reports these findings as "new" to the broader public.
The findings may be new to the discipline of Social Psychology (and therefore worthy of publication in that discipline's journal), but the broader public should be aware of this.
"Should" is a key word here.
Part of the problem is that the discipline of Rhetoric & Composition has an ethos problem. People don't view the knowledge produced by the discipline as "knowledge" because we are rooted in the humanities. People want to see scientific inquiry, and that is something Social Psychologists can provide.
Another part of the problem is the discipline of Rhetoric & Composition hasn't always been the best at articulating its purpose.
And the final, perhaps most obvious point: While people should be aware of the impact of their own rhetorical choices, people forget, people get emotionally involved, people don't care, people love to hear themselves talk, etc...
Still, cool study.