Lesson 2

Uncover the roots of our differences

Lesson 2

Uncover the roots of our differences


Explore where our differences in values come from and why disagreements can be so intractable. Uncover how your heritage and life experiences have shaped your worldview and values. 

Our Picks

Recommended Reading:

  • Beyond WEIRD Morality, adapted from The Righteous Mind (2012) by Jonathan Haidt. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt provides an analysis of why moral judgments differ across cultures, including the “cultures” of the political left and right. Haidt introduces the concept of the “moral matrix” and explains that many moral matrices coexist within each nation. Haidt argues that by learning to step outside our own moral matrices, we can be released from partisan anger and better understand one another.

Recommended Video:

  • How to master your emotions | emotional intelligence, Freedom in Thought (8:14). This video provides a vivid illustration of how two people can come to see the same situation in completely different ways. It shows how factors like our culture and our upbringing lead us to form a specific worldview, which then informs our gut instincts about what’s ethically correct. But it also suggests that we can come to see things in a new light by talking to people whose perspectives are different from our own.
  • Isaac Lidsky, What reality are you creating for yourself?, TED Talk (11:46). This video explores the nature of reality, truth, and perception. Lidsky demonstrates that what we see often determines what we believe. What we consider to be reality is actually a construction of our own mind.

  • Jonathan Haidt, The moral roots of liberals and conservatives, TED Talk (18:42). In this talk, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores what morality is and where it comes. He presents the five foundations of morality and illustrates how this theory helps us understand the differences between liberals and conservatives.

  • Joshua Greene of Harvard discusses Us vs. Them – ‘Moral tribes’, Mimi Geerges (28:10). Psychologist Joshua Greene is interviewed on his findings on moral psychology: what’s happening in our minds when we make decisions about what’s right and wrong. Greene explains the role of our gut instincts and emotional impulses in influencing our conclusions about what’s the right thing to do. While following our gut instincts tends to work pretty well when we’re dealing with people whose interests and values are similar to our own, we need to engage in deliberate in order to make better choices about issues involving people who think differently than we do. 

  • Lee Ross, The Objectivity Illusion, TEDx Talks (14:19)Psychologist Lee Ross discusses the consequences of our false impression that the way we experience things is exactly how they are. This illusion leads us to assume that people are unreasonable if they don’t see things the way we do, and gives us false confidence that other people will adopt our point of view as soon as we offer facts to demonstrate that we’re right and they were wrong.

  • Anil Seth, Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality, TED Talk (17:01). Although it seems as though we’re experiencing the world around us exactly as it really is, neuroscientist Anil Seth presents a provocative and counterintuitive finding: we’re actually experiencing a “controlled hallucination,” representing our brain’s “best guess of what’s out there in the world” based on the limited information it has. Seth explains how our brains assemble a coherent picture of the world around us from bits and pieces of data we take in through each of our senses. As a result, what we perceive is an interpretation of reality – not reality itself.

Essays and Articles
  • How desire can warp our view of the world by Brian Resnick (2019). Resnick reviews recent scientific findings that support the idea that people with different desires may literally see the world differently. Because of our tendency toward naive realism (“the feeling that our perception of the world reflects the truth”), conflicts can arise between groups of people who are equally confident in competing convictions about the world. According to neuroscientist Yuan Cheng Leong, “Knowing that other people could truly be seeing things differently from us is a way of being able to better understand them and empathize with how they feel.”
  • ‘Reality’ is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters by Brian Resnick (2020). This article delves into the evidence supporting the discovery that we don’t see the world as it really is; instead, our brains generate an interpretation of reality. Resnick provides many illustrations of how we can be misled about things because of how our brains work. But he also offers a hopeful message: that understanding how and why we are misled can help us become better thinkers and develop more empathy for each other.
  • Tribalism, groupism, globalism by E.O. Wilson (2013). Biologist E.O. Wilson discusses our tribalistic nature by discussing social psychology research that “reveals how swiftly and decisively people divide into groups, and then discriminate in favor of the one to which they belong.”
  • WIRED will now predict your political views (you naïve thing) by Lee Ross and Thomas Gilovich (2016). Psychologists Ross and Gilovich describe the concept of “naïve realism,” the mistaken sense that we see the world as it objectively is, rather than as a subjective interpretation based on our own experiences and perspectives.
  • “Yanny” vs. “Laurel”: your reality is an interpretation by Brian Resnick (2018). In this brief article, Resnick explains what we can learn from some startling illustrations that two people can perceive the same thing (like “The Dress”) very differently from one another. He encourages us to use this information to become more accepting of our differences with others: “If someone comes to a different perception of reality, know that their brain may be processing it just a little bit differently.” 
Academic Articles
  • Clash!: How to Thrive in a Multicultural World by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner (2013). Stanford psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner explain how the culture clash between “independence” and “interdependence” fuels global tensions and divisions among many groups domestically – including regions, races, genders, classes, religions, and organizations. Using this framework, Markus and Conner explain how we can mend our divisions and thrive in our multicultural society.
  • Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott (1884). This satirical novella follows the protagonist, a Square geometric figure living in a fictional two-dimensional world as he fortuitously discovers alternative one-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds. Through these discoveries, the Square’s mind is opened to new, previously unimagined dimensions of understanding.
  • Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture, by Christian Smith (2003). Sociologist Christian Smith weaves together research from sociology, moral philosophy, and epistemology to shed new insight on our understanding of human nature. Smith argues that despite differences in individuals and cultures, humans possess a fundamental moral and spiritual dimension.
  • Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene (2013). Synthesizing research from neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Green posits that many of our modern conflicts stem from the fact that our minds were designed to be tribalistic. We have evolved to favor our in-group and to compete with and be hostile towards those who we perceive to be “other.” Green argues that modernity has brought different tribes into closer contact than before, resulting in clashes over differences in moral values.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (2012). Drawing on decades of groundbreaking research, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains what morality is, how it evolves—both biologically and culturally—and why it differs across societies and centuries. Using this framework, Haidt demonstrates why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians differ in their beliefs and values.