cover image Radical Distortion: How Emotions Warp What We Hear

Radical Distortion: How Emotions Warp What We Hear

John W. Reich. Prometheus, $19 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-61614-658-0

Psychophysical components of human judgment are deconstructed in this insightful anatomy of “radical hearing,” or the natural result of polarizing, radical speech: when people are emotionally fired up, they cannot really hear moderate or opposite views to their own. A psychologist and emeritus professor at Arizona State, Reich (Experimenting in Society) explains how high emotional involvement can distort and bias a person’s judgment, leading to the type of black-and-white, “us” versus “them” thinking that often accompanies problems in civil discourse. Reich points out that moderate opinions, which are often overlooked by radical hearers, have a greater chance of being internalized by people who are open-minded to different sides of an issue. He ultimately places responsibility on the collective “audience” to abstain from radical hearing by way of a handful of basic principles (e.g., “Do not assume that you are invariably on the side of the angels”). Reich shares interesting studies and reproducible results, culminating in a clear if complex understanding of how radical hearing begets radical behavior. However, one question lingers: if one of Reich’s main goals is to promote change in people’s radical behavior, how will the book get into the hands of not just open-minded readers but those caught in the very throes of radical hearing? Illus. (Sept.)