Psych in Sum: Low information voter or cognitive miser?

vote.jpg

Image from CNN

With the presidential election less than a month away, the pressure is on for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to pick up as many undecided voters as they can before November 8th. But how do voters decide who they are voting for and what kinds of information do they consider? David Redlawsk sheds some light on the process.

The ideal way to make this important decision is through a thorough information search that considers all attributes of all possible candidates. However, most people don’t do this, because, well, our brains are lazy. Instead, we develop various information search strategies in deciding who to cast a ballot for. Behavioral Decision Theory suggests that people tend to settle for “good enough” choices once they feel like they have acquired enough information about the decision. We are “cognitive misers,” in the way that we don’t expend cognitive energy when we don’t have to. There tend to be two sets of conditions under which people make decisions between alternatives; compensatory rules, where alternatives are compared on all attributes such that a low score on one attribute may be redeemed with a high score on another attribute, and non-compensatory rules, where people consider each alternative on one attribute in serial and discard inadequate options immediately.

In situations where decisions can be made easily, people are more likely to employ compensatory decision rules, but in situations that are more complex, people tend to go with a single-elimination non-compensatory system. Further, he found that voters who used compensatory rules had more realistic views of the candidates, including lower evaluations of their preferred candidate and high evaluations of rejected candidates than people who use non-compensatory rules. Single issue voters, like people who vote based only on a politician’s stance on gun rights or abortion, are using non-compensatory rules, and the narrowness of their decision-making process leads to worse decisions. It’s always better to have more information than less!

Redlawsk, D. P. (2004). What voters do: Information search during election campaigns. Political Psychology25(4), 595-610.

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Warmth and Competence: Ambivalent Sexism keeps Women out of Politics

On July 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to become the presidential nominee for a major political party in the US. People talked of her breaking the glass ceiling, ushering in a new era where women will be seriously considered alongside men for the highest office in the nation. But why has it taken so long for a woman to be a serious candidate for president? Women earned the right to vote once the 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, almost a century ago. And even though we make up half of the population, we only make up about 20% of congresspeople. Why is it that women don’t have proportional representation in our federal government?

It may be due to the fact that people often think of others in terms of their competence and warmth. Ideally, people rate high on both, but most people are seen as warm at the expense of being seen as competent, or vice versa. Unfortunately, warmth is a quality we expect from women, so while men often just need to rate high in competence, highly competent women are seen with envy, resulting in ambivalent sexism, a type of sexism that isn’t necessarily hostile (e.g. women are all gold diggers) or benevolent (e.g. women need to be protected by men). Women who are seen as competent but not warm are often non-traditional women, as opposed to filling housewife or sex object roles, they occupy career paths, or compete as athletes, filling spaces traditionally reserved for men. Traditional women tend to be seen as warm and likable, but they don’t garner respect.

So women are forced to walk a pretty fine line, they need to be seen as competent, but not so competent that they wouldn’t make you a sandwich. This may underlie the difficulty women have getting elected to office. If they reach the point where they are seen as competent enough for the job, they are often seen as unlikeable. If they compensate by upping the warmth factor, they may be compromising their competence. It’s a lose-lose situation for many women. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who has had a difficult time drumming up enthusiasm for her candidacy. People regularly say she’s qualified for the job and she is often seen as highly competent. But warmth? People just don’t want to have a beer with her. And while many of our male leaders have been seen as charismatic, it’s worth wondering how many of them have had to make a concerted effort to appear likable, as well as good at their jobs. For men, the latter is often the only real requirement.

 

Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of personality and social psychology82(6), 878.

Psych in Sum: Confirmation Bias in Politics

confirmation_bias

Image from Clay Bennett

We saw the first debate between the two major party nominees for president this Monday, and critiques of the candidates’ performances flooded the internet. As with every debate, there are people declaring victory on both sides. Not only did their candidate win, but he/she mopped the floor with the other one! But political experts largely agree that Hillary Clinton won the debate, and polls of likely voters that were conducted offline show the majority of the electorate thinks Clinton won as well. So how do a bunch of people take some unscientific online polls and use them as real evidence that Trump won? Confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a tendency to seek out information that supports your position (hello .net web address!) and to interpret information in such a way that it confirms what you already think.1 Everyone is vulnerable to this bias. In fact, scientists regularly try to avoid having their a priori beliefs affect the later interpretation of their data through various techniques, like deciding sample size before looking at the results, or using a blind experimental design. They go through this trouble because we know that people tend to selectively expose themselves to information they agree with, and tend to ignore information they don’t agree with.1 That isn’t good science, and it isn’t the road to good decision-making either.

Thinking your biases are founded in fact can be extremely problematic and lead to overconfidence in judgments, such that you are more certain your judgment is correct than your evidence warrants.And if there’s something worse than someone who is wrong, it’s someone who is desperately trying to convince you they aren’t. Generally, if you look hard enough, you’re going to find something that assures you that you are right. Whether or not that something has any real merit is often another story.

 

  1. Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of general psychology2(2), 175.
  2. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1977). Intuitive prediction: Biases and corrective procedures. DECISIONS AND DESIGNS INC MCLEAN VA.

Political Psych in Sum: Ideology

This fall, we’ll be breaking down various aspects of the American presidential election, ranging from the psychology of why people support particular candidates to the role of group processes in dismissing people who don’t support your beliefs and everything in between. First up, ideology.

Ideology is a motivation-based orientation of being in favor of or against a social system.1 This orientation breaks down into the right-left spectrum we all know so well in today’s political system (the historical origins of determining right wing and left are quite interesting). Whether people endorse right-wing (conservative) or left-wing (liberal) ideas is typically determined by two fundamental dimensions:

  • advocating versus resisting social change (i.e., do you want to keep the social status quo?)
  • accepting versus resisting inequality2

Generally, although with some exceptions,3 knowing where people exist within these dimensions can predict their explicit political attitudes and opinions. And, as recent research shows, these differences also exist in implicit (i.e., automatic, non-conscious) associations (Side note: if you’re unfamiliar with implicit bias, check out the Implicit Association Test). The figure below shows the results of implicit preferences for five values. Higher scores indicate a greater preference for the first value in each pair.

 

implicit-prefs_jost

Jost, Nosek, & Gosling. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspectives in Psychological Science

 

Jost et al. also suggest that people’s threshold for managing risk or uncertainty, as well as their tendency to justify the current political and social system, predicts their place in the right-left spectrum. So, what does this mean?  Consider this: a conservative’s preference for order and fear of uncertainty translate to wanting to maintain the status quo. In contrast, a liberal’s lack of preference for traditional values (or their preference for feminism) translates to endorsing social change and more progressive ideals.

The more you know!

 


References

1 –  Jost, Nosek, & Gosling. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 3, 126-136.

2,3 – Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway. (2003). Exceptions that prove the rule—Using a theory of motivated social cognition to account for ideological incongruities and political anomalies: Reply to Greenberg and Jonas (2003). Psych Bulletin, 129, 383-393.

 

Social Psych Snapshot: Week of 10/19


Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.

social psych snapshot: week of 10/5/15


Hannah
This week, Hannah provides the research highlights of early fall 2015!

You may already know about the cognitive consequences of Google but this article explores some social consequences of Google and technology more broadly.

Promising lab research suggests that comedy may be an effective means of coping with emotional distress.

New research conceptually replicates an old finding – that taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) can blunt negative emotions – and extends it, suggesting that acetaminophen may blunt strong positive and negative emotions alike.

Hm… I won’t be trying this unusual method of enhancing self-control based on the theory of inhibitory spillover: that trying to control your behavior in one domain might help you control your behavior in another.


Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.

Social Psych Snapshot: Week of 9/21/15

HannahThis week, Hannah brings you the best of early September!

-The weapon bias can explain how a middle-schooler who brought a home-made clock to school ended up in jail — his teacher claimed it looked like a bomb.

-A fun recap of research on inattentional blindness, including the infamous invisible gorilla study and some clever follow-up studies.

-Longer read: The New Yorker reviewed a new book on “gamifying” our daily lives to overcome obstacles (think Cognitive Behavioral Therapy meets Mario Brothers). The piece reviews and challenges the research claims presented in the book and reflects on what might be lost when we view our lives as games.

-Scientific American highlights social psychological concepts demonstrated in the sketch comedy show Key and Peele.

Hannah graduated with a degree in Psychology from Reed College, and worked in educational research and meta-analysis as a lab manager at Duke University before entering the Social Psychology PhD program in 2014. Her research focuses on social psychological processes at work in educational contexts.