The research findings showed that envisioning opposing views leads to a more comprehensive examination of the issue. Moreover, constructing opposing views leads people to regard knowledge less as fact and more as information that can be scrutinized in a framework of alternatives and evidence.
"Constructing a dialogue would lead to deeper, more comprehensive processing of the two positions and hence a richer representation of each and the differences between them... thus helping to expand and sharpen students' thinking," said Deanna Kuhn of Columbia University in New York.
"Everything possible should be done to encourage and support genuine discourse on critical issues, but our findings suggest that the virtual form of interaction may be a productive substitute, at a time when positions on an issue far too often lack the deep analysis to support them," Kuhn added.
For the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the team asked 60 undergraduates to participate in a one-hour writing activity. Some participants were randomly assigned to construct a dialogue between TV commentators discussing two mayoral candidates. They received a list of notable problems that the city was facing and a list of actions proposed by each candidate to solve these problems.
Other participants received the same information about the city and the candidates but were asked to write a persuasive essay highlighting the merits of each candidate instead. Then, participants in both groups were asked to write a script for a two-minute TV spot, promoting their preferred candidate. The results showed that participants who had constructed a dialogue included more discrete ideas in their writing.