Public discussions of political and social issues are often characterized by deep and persistent polarization. In social psychology, it’s standard to treat belief polarization as the product of epistemic irrationality. In contrast, we argue that the persistent disagreement that grounds political and social polarization can be produced by epistemically rational agents, when those agents have limited cognitive resources. Using an agent-based model of group deliberation, we show that groups of deliberating agents using coherence-based strategies for managing their limited resources tend to polarize into different subgroups. We argue that using that strategy is epistemically rational for limited agents. So even though group polarization looks like it must be the product of human irrationality, polarization can be the result of fully rational deliberation with natural human limitations.
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