We are polarized as a nation and as a culture. This is not breaking news. Many blame social media for amplifying divisions that were already present. Significant empirical evidence supports this suspicion. But what exactly is it that’s being amplified? What specifically is so corrosive?
A recent study on marriage may give the answer. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, this study created a model that could predict whether or not a marriage would end in divorce. The model has a remarkable success rate of 94%. One trait above all others was found to be the most deadly to a relationship. That trait? Contempt.
Contempt is the worst.
Researchers evaluated married couples as they discussed things about which they disagreed. The topic didn’t matter. 16 different emotions were scored and tabulated in the mathematical model. Consistently, in case after case, contempt acted as a lead weight that pulled marriages into a downward trajectory.
I suggest something very similar is happening on social media platforms with our hot takes, reactions, performative outrage. Let’s face it: we need an editor between our thumbs and the send button. The report puts its finger on how contempt acts as a truly toxic component to any discourse—private or public. It has a poisonous effect on all parties—the speaker, the recipient, and everyone who scrolls through the comment section.