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Going to Extremes

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Going to Extremes

How Like Minds Unite and Divide

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Extremism grows when people join groups that agree with them.

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Hot Topic


This fascinating tour of the sociology of extremism provides a general description of its impact on society and describes specific tactics for leaders and managers who want to foster open discussion while promoting a democratic workplace. Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein addresses polarization by presenting results from numerous studies. Polarization affects every group interaction, including those of lawyers, judges, doctors, elected officials and the military. getAbstract recommends this book to those interested in promoting open discussions or in preventing pathologies that create mob behaviors and even genocide.


When People Talk

When people get together to talk about an issue, do they find common ground and compromise? Do they consider all perspectives? In short, no. Hundreds of studies worldwide show that when groups discuss an issue, members take a more extreme position in the direction they were inclined before the meeting. The group confirms their predispositions and makes its members more extreme. This “group polarization” provides a good starting point for investigating extremism, which manifests across all cultures, religions and nations.

When groups polarize and separate from mainstream society – either psychologically or physically – they can become extreme. This accelerates when the group becomes suspicious of nonmembers and discounts their opinions. Group polarization can occur as people make everyday decisions regarding investing, evaluating others, deciding what to eat and where to live. It creates homogeneous groups intolerant of opposing viewpoints.

Patterns of Polarization

Polarization exists even among US federal judges. One study comparing the voting records in tens of thousands of judicial rulings by Republican and Democratic federal judges...

About the Author

Cass R. Sunstein is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University. He served as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during the Obama administration. His other books include Can It Happen Here, The Cost-Benefit RevolutionGoing to Extremes, On Freedom, How Change Happens, Infotopia and The World According to Star Wars, and he is also the co-author of Nudge (with Richard Thaler).

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