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Keywords:

  • deliberative democracy;
  • political beliefs;
  • attitude change;
  • group norms

The idea of deliberative democracy is based upon an implicit and questionable assumption that the ability for a meaningful participation in deliberation is a common characteristic of citizens of democratic countries. This paper discusses that assumption and describes the results of empirical research aimed at finding out (1) whether ordinary people are able to solve important ideological and moral controversies by means of deliberation, (2) what factors may facilitate this process, and (3) what are the effects of the deliberation. The research consisted in studying 20 small groups of parents of school-aged children who were asked to participate in a debate about sex education in Polish schools (N = 195). The debates were conducted by a facilitator. Before and after the debate participants filled out questionnaires testing their attitudes and some psychological variables. The debates were recorded on videotapes. We found that it is possible to conduct a debate on ideologically contentious issues that meets some criteria of the deliberative functioning and such a debate may have some of the effects postulated by deliberative theorists.