The partisan mind: Is extreme political partisanship related to cognitive inflexibility?
Leor Zmigrod, Peter Jason Rentfrow & Trevor Robbins
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming
The rise of partisan animosity, ideological polarization, and political dogmatism has reignited important questions about the relationship between psychological rigidity and political partisanship. Two competing hypotheses have been proposed: 1 hypothesis argues that mental rigidity is related to a conservative political orientation, and the other suggests that it reflects partisan extremity across the political spectrum. In a sample of over 700 U.S. citizens, partisan extremity was related to lower levels of cognitive flexibility, regardless of political orientation, across 3 independent cognitive assessments of cognitive flexibility. This was evident across multiple statistical analyses, including quadratic regressions, Bayes factor analysis, and interrupted regressions. These findings suggest that the rigidity with which individuals process and respond to nonpolitical information may be related to the extremity of their partisan identities.
Awe, ideological conviction, and perceptions of ideological opponents
Daniel Stancato & Dacher Keltner
Awe is an emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that transcend current frames of reference. Guided by prior work documenting that awe promotes humility, increases perceptions of uncertainty, and diminishes personal concerns, across 3 studies (N = 776) we tested the hypothesis that awe results in reduced conviction about one’s ideological attitudes. In Study 1, participants induced to experience awe, relative to those feeling amusement or in a neutral control condition, expressed less conviction regarding their attitudes toward capital punishment. In 2 subsequent studies, we showed that experiencing awe decreased perceptions of ideological polarization in the U.S. vis-à-vis racial bias in the criminal justice system (Study 2) and reduced desired social distance from those with different viewpoints regarding immigration (Study 3) — effects that were partially mediated by reduced conviction. These findings indicate that awe may lead to uncertainty and ambivalence regarding one’s attitudes, a form of epistemological humility, and that this in turn may promote reduced dogmatism and increased perceptions of social cohesion.
In-group interest cues do not change issue attitudes
MIT Working Paper, July 2019
In this paper, I investigate whether people change their attitudes about societal issues when they learn that those issues affect others like them. In three pre-registered survey experiments, I find that these in-group interest cues have little to no effect on issue-specific attitudes. This is true for social groups based on gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. People who closely identify with an in-group do not react more strongly to the group interest information. The findings raise new questions about exactly when and why people let their group memberships influence their political attitudes.
Education and the Curious Case of Conservative Compromise
James Glaser, Jeffrey Berry & Deborah Schildkraut
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming
“Education,” notes Philip Converse, “is everywhere the universal solvent.” Whatever the ill of the body politic, many believe that greater education improves the condition. Much scholarship explores the impact of education on political attitudes and behaviors, but scholars have not examined the relationship of education to support for political compromise. This is especially topical, as compromise between parties seems harder than ever to achieve, yet compromise is necessary for democratic governance. We examine whether higher levels of education lead to support for compromise and find that education does matter, but the relationship is conditional. For liberals and moderates, more education promotes greater support for compromise. For conservatives, those with more education are not more likely to support compromise than those with less education. We argue that for conservatives, education matters for compromise support, but it also leads to better understanding of bedrock ideological principles that inhibit approval of compromise.
"And why is that a partisan issue?": Source Cues, Persuasion, and School Lunches
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
Childhood obesity is a prominent and prevalent public health issue. One of Michelle Obama’s legacies was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which strengthened nutritional standards for school lunches. In May 2017, the Trump Administration rolled back several of those nutritional standards. This article uses an original survey experiment to examine the extent to which attitudes towards school lunch standards in particular, and childhood obesity in general, are shaped by linking the policy to Michelle Obama. Although highlighting Michelle Obama’s involvement attracts modest support among Democrats, it spurs significant opposition among Republicans. In addition, tying Michelle Obama to school lunch policies activates gender attitudes, with opposition to the policies appearing among the most sexist respondents. The results suggest that policies to combat childhood obesity may face steep challenges given the disproportionate attention that the public devotes not to the issue itself but to who is advocating for change.
Conspiratorial Thinking and Political Constraint
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming
Recent research on conspiracy beliefs reveals that the general predisposition to believe conspiracy theories cuts across partisan and ideological lines. While this may signify that political orientations have no bearing on conspiratorial reasoning, it also may suggest that conspiracy theorists are simply less engaged in traditional left-right politics. In this manuscript, I consider the relationship between conspiratorial thinking and political constraint, or the extent to which individuals have a clear picture of “what goes with what” with respect to the various objects of the political world. Using the 2012 American National Election Study, I construct a measure of conspiratorial thinking, as well as several operationalizations of both ideological and group-based constraint and ideological thinking. Results show that individuals prone to conspiratorial thinking are less politically constrained — when it comes to both thoughts about issues and feelings about political groups — than their less conspiratorial counterparts. Moreover, conspiratorial thinking is positively associated with antigovernmental orientations and a lack of political efficacy, with conspiracy theorists perceiving a governmental threat to individual rights and displaying a deep skepticism that who one votes for really matters. These findings suggest that conspiratorial thinking may have broader implications for individuals’ basic conceptualization of politics.
Brevity is the Soul of Twitter: The Constraint Affordance and Political Discussion
Kokil Jaidka, Alvin Zhou & Yphtach Lelkes
Journal of Communication, August 2019, Pages 345–372
Many hoped that social networking sites would allow for the open exchange of information and a revival of the public sphere. Unfortunately, conversations on social media are often toxic and not conducive to healthy political discussions. Twitter, the most widely used social network for political discussions, doubled the limit of characters in a tweet in November 2017, which provided an opportunity to study the effect of technological affordances on political discussions using a discontinuous time series design. Using supervised and unsupervised natural language processing methods, we analyzed 358,242 tweet replies to U.S. politicians from January 2017 to March 2018. We show that doubling the permissible length of a tweet led to less uncivil, more polite, and more constructive discussions online. However, the declining trend in the empathy and respectfulness of these tweets raises concerns about the implications of the changing norms for the quality of political deliberation.
The Power of the Party: Conflict Expansion and the Agenda Diversity of Interest Groups
E.J. Fagan, Zachary McGee & Herschel Thomas
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming
To what extent do political parties have an effect on the policy-related activity of interest groups? Drawing from ideas of conflict expansion and the structure of extended party networks, we argue that political parties are able to pull interest groups into more policy conflicts than they otherwise would be involved in. We posit that parties are able to draw interest groups to be active outside of established issue niches. We suggest that several mechanisms — shared partisan electoral incentives, reciprocity, identification with the means, and cue-taking behavior — lead groups to participate in more diverse political conflicts. By linking data on interest group bill positions and the policy content of legislation, we generate a novel measure of 158 interest groups’ alignment with political parties. We find that the more an interest group is ideologically aligned with a political party, the more diverse their issue agenda becomes.
Collision with Collusion: Partisan Reaction to the Trump-Russia Scandal
Joshua Darr et al.
Perspectives on Politics, September 2019, Pages 772-787
President Donald Trump faced substantial scandal coverage early in his presidency. Can these stories about presidential controversies change the opinions of Trump’s fellow Republicans, or are the efforts of the news media to inform partisans about prominent issues futile? Past research on partisan reactions to major political scandals were confounded by problems with self-reported media use and single-shot experimental treatments. We address these concerns using a unique, repeated-exposure experimental design that either randomly supplied participants with news about the Trump-Russia scandal, or removed most of those stories from view, over the course of one week in June 2017. This design mimics sustained media attention to a political scandal and disentangles the effects of media coverage from selection in the context of a high-choice media environment. We find that Republicans randomly assigned to see more Trump-Russia headlines reacted more negatively than Democrats or Independents, rating Trump’s performance lower and expressing more negative emotions about him. Republicans’ perceptions of media bias were not affected by Trump-Russia stories, and effects were not contingent upon clicking the articles. Intense media focus on a story can alter partisans’ evaluations of politicians by shifting the balance of headlines.
Tell it like it is: When politically incorrect language promotes authenticity
Michael Rosenblum, Juliana Schroeder & Francesca Gino
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming
When a person’s language appears to be political — such as being politically correct or incorrect — it can influence fundamental impressions of him or her. Political correctness is “using language or behavior to seem sensitive to others’ feelings, especially those others who seem socially disadvantaged.” One pilot study, 6 experiments, and 3 supplemental experiments (N = 4,956) demonstrate that being politically incorrect makes communicators appear more authentic — specifically, less susceptible to external influence — albeit also less warm. These effects, however, are moderated by perceivers’ political ideology and how sympathetic perceivers feel toward the target group being labeled politically correctly. In Experiments 1, 2, and 3 using politically incorrect language (e.g., calling undocumented immigrants illegals) made a communicator appear particularly authentic among conservative perceivers but particularly cold among liberal perceivers. However, in Experiment 4 these effects reversed when conservatives felt sympathetic toward the group that was being labeled politically correctly or incorrectly (e.g., calling poor Whites white trash). Experiment 5 tests why political incorrectness can boost authenticity, demonstrating that it makes communicators seem less strategic. Finally, Experiment 6 examines the use of political language in a meaningful field context: perceived persuasion in real political debates. Debaters instructed to be politically correct (vs. politically incorrect) were judged by their uninstructed conversation partners to be easier to persuade during the conversation, although they actually reported being similarly persuaded. Together, these findings demonstrate when and how using politically incorrect language can enhance a person’s authenticity.
Boycotting, Buycotting, and the Psychology of Political Consumerism
Cindy Kam & Maggie Deichert
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
Political consumerism refers to the intentional avoidance or purchase of products due to political, social, or ethical concerns. The intentional avoidance (boycotting) and the intentional purchase (buycotting) of products constitute a growing form of political behavior. In this paper, we offer a conceptual framework for understanding and disentangling boycotting and buycotting, based on a psychological framework of avoidance and approach, respectively. We conduct three original survey experiments to identify the differential effects of negative and positive information in stimulating boycotting and buycotting behaviors. In all three studies, we find that negative information is far more powerful in inducing boycotting than positive information is in inducing buycotting.
Does Predisposition Toward Disgust Affect Emotional Response to Political Leaders? Evidence from the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election
Patrick Stewart, Jamilah George & Thomas Adams
Social Science Quarterly, October 2019, Pages 2033-2046
Methods: We analyze the effect of individual predispositions in response to stimuli indicating the presence of pathogens on emotional response to President Barack Obama, as well as his Republican challenger during the 2012 election, Mitt Romney. Study 1 utilizes cross‐sectional data to determine how disgust sensitivity relates to how President Obama made respondents feel. Study 2 analyzes experimental data considering the effect of a disgusting odorant (butyric acid) on emotional response to Obama and Romney.
Results: Findings suggest disgust plays an important role in emotional response to political leaders both through trait sensitivity and when induced and it is particularly relevant to emotional responses to President Obama.
Differences that don’t make much difference: Party asymmetry in open-minded cognitive styles has little relationship to information processing behavior
April Eichmeier & Neil Stenhouse
Research & Politics, August 2019
We investigated the link between party identification and several cognitive styles that are associated with open-minded thinking. We used a web-based survey which involved participants rating the strength of an argument they initially disagreed with. Results showed that Democrats tend to score higher and Republicans tend to score lower on open-minded cognitive style variables. However, mediation analyses showed that these partisan differences in cognitive style generally have negligible relationships with how individuals assess the strength of arguments they disagree with. In other words, partisan differences in cognitive style may often make little meaningful difference to information processing.