Mob Rule

Kevin Lewis

October 12, 2009

"To understand something — an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence — requires a certain amount of attention. But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand many of these correlations, and their defamatory implications, is almost always less than the amount of time required. The result is a systemic misunderstanding — at least if the story is reported in a context, or in a manner, that does not neutralize such misunderstanding. The listing and correlating of data hardly qualifies as such a context. Understanding how and why some stories will be understood, or not understood, provides the key to grasping what is wrong with the tyranny of transparency...Think of politics, increasingly the art of exploiting attention-span problems — tagging your opponent with barbs that no one has time to understand, let alone analyze. Think of any complex public policy issue, from the economy to debates about levels of foreign aid...The Web will show us every possible influence. The most cynical will be the most salient. Limited attention span will assure that the most salient is the most stable. Unwarranted conclusions will be drawn, careers will be destroyed, alienation will grow. No doubt we will rally to the periodic romantic promising change (such as Barack Obama), but nothing will change." [Lawrence Lessig (professor at Harvard Law School), The New Republic, October 9, 2009]


Who Wants to Deliberateand Why?

Michael Neblo, Kevin Esterling, Ryan Kennedy, David Lazer & Anand Sokhey
Harvard Working Paper, September 2009

Interest in deliberative theories of democracy has grown tremendously among political theorists over the last twenty years. Many scholars in political behavior, however, are skeptical that it is a practically viable theory, even on its own terms. They argue (inter alia) that most people dislike politics, and that deliberative initiatives would amount to a paternalistic imposition. Using two large, representative samples investigating people's hypothetical willingness to deliberate and their actual behavior in response to a real invitation to deliberate with their member of Congress, we find: 1) that willingness to deliberate in the U.S. is much more widespread than expected; and 2) that it is precisely people who are less likely to participate in traditional partisan politics who are most interested in deliberative participation. They are attracted to such participation as a partial alternative to "politics as usual."


Is There a Secret Ballot? Ballot Secrecy Perceptions and Their Implications for Voting Behavior

Alan Gerber, Gregory Huber, David Doherty & Conor Dowling
Yale Working Paper, August 2009

A secret ballot is implemented to free voters to choose candidates without fear of economic or social repercussions, but the extent to which the secrecy achieves this goal depends on whether people believe their choices are kept secret, rather than whether they actually are. Findings from a nationally representative sample show that large proportions of the U.S. population have doubts about the secrecy of the ballot. Approximately 25% of all respondents and approximately half of non-White and less educated respondents do not believe their ballot choices are kept secret. Even larger proportions (almost 70%) report regularly, voluntarily sharing their vote choices with others. In sum, we find that few people view their vote choices as truly secret. We also show that beliefs about ballot secrecy help predict which candidate a citizen votes for and whether a voter turns out. Our results suggest that, despite the formal secrecy of the ballot, citizens' vote choices should be analyzed as something other than purely private acts.


A Processing Fluency Explanation of Bias Against Migrants

Mark Rubin, Stefania Paolini & Richard Crisp
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

This research investigated whether people are biased against migrants partly because they find migrants more difficult to cognitively process than nonmigrants. In Study 1, 181 undergraduate students evaluated migrant and nonmigrant members of two minimal groups and reported the difficulty that they experienced in thinking about each type of target. Participants rated migrants less positively than nonmigrants, and difficulty ratings partially mediated this effect. Study 2 (N = 191) replicated these findings and demonstrated similar findings for individuals who had been excluded from minimal groups. This evidence implies that migrant bias can be explained partly in terms of the difficulty that people have in processing information about migrants, and that it is related to migrants' exclusion from their original group.


Party Affiliation, Partisanship, and Political Beliefs: A Field Experiment

Alan Gerber, Gregory Huber & Ebonya Washington
NBER Working Paper, September 2009

Political partisanship is strongly correlated with attitudes and behavior, but it is unclear from this pattern whether partisan identity has a causal effect on political behavior and attitudes. We report the results of a field experiment designed to investigate the causal effect of party identification. Prior to the February 2008 Connecticut presidential primary, researchers sent a mailing to a random sample of unaffiliated registered voters informing them of the need to register in order to participate in the upcoming primary. Comparing post-treatment survey responses to subjects' baseline survey responses, we find that those informed of the need to register with a party were more likely to affiliate with a party and subsequently showed stronger partisanship. Further, we find that the treatment group also demonstrated greater concordance than the control group between their pre-treatment latent partisanship and their post-treatment reported voting behavior and intentions and evaluations of partisan figures. Thus our treatment, which caused a strengthening of partisan identity, also caused a shift in subjects' candidate preferences and evaluations of salient political figures. This finding is consistent with the claim that partisanship is an active force changing how citizens behave in and perceive the political world.


Ideology and Ideological Modes of Reasoning: A Theory of Contingent Preference Formation

Richard Herrmann & Paul Sniderman
Ohio State University Working Paper, August 2009

Focusing on foreign policy, this study formulates a theory of contingent reasoning. Choices between alternative courses of action, we show, are a function of the interaction of ideological dispositions and asymmetries in causal attributions. In a series of experiments embedded in a national survey we find that liberals and conservatives differ in the value they attach to multilateral processes and also in the emphasis they put on the character of the countries involved. Conservatives treat the character they attribute to countries as a significant feature guiding policy choice; liberals attach more weight to context and procedure. Contrary to the impression of much previous research, then, ideology thus plays a consequential role in foreign policy reasoning in mass publics. Conservatives and liberals consistently take opposing sides of foreign policy choices as a function of consistently following distinctive decision rules that focus their attention on different features of choice situations.


If Democratic Theory Calls for Informed Voters, Why is it Democratic to Expand the Franchise?

Jennifer Hochschild
Harvard Working Paper, August 2009

Three uncontroversial points add up to a paradox: 1) Almost every democratic theorist or democratic political actor sees an informed electorate as essential to good democratic practice. Citizens must know who or what they are choosing and why — hence the need for publicly funded education, and the rights to free speech, assembly, press, and movement. 2) In most if not all democratic polities, the proportion of the population granted the suffrage has consistently expanded, and seldom contracted, over the past two centuries. Most observers agree that expanding the franchise makes a state more democratic. 3) Each expansion of the suffrage brings in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote. Putting these three uncontroversial points together leads to the conclusion that as democracies become more democratic, their decision-making processes become of lower quality. That conclusion presumably is controversial, and few have addressed it since the early nineteenth century. This paper explicates the historical trajectory of democratization in the United States (although the basic argument is not specific to that country). It then offers several plausible explanations for the paradox: voters are not really that ignorant; the United States is not really a democracy; institutions substitute for voters' knowledge; and democracy does not, or does not primarily, need cognitively sophisticated citizens. I offer a few reflections on these explanations, but cannot genuinely dissolve the paradox.


The existence of implicit bias is beyond reasonable doubt: A refutation of ideological and methodological objections and executive summary of ten studies that no manager should ignore

John Jost, Laurie Rudman, Irene Blair, Dana Carney, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Jack Glaser & Curtis Harding
Research in Organizational Behavior, forthcoming

In this chapter, we respond at length to recent critiques of research on implicit bias, especially studies using the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Tetlock and Mitchell (this volume) claim that "there is no evidence that the IAT reliably predicts class-wide discrimination on tangible outcomes in any setting," accuse their colleagues of violating "the injunction to separate factual from value judgments," adhering blindly to a "statist-interventionist" ideology, and of conducting a witch-hunt against implicit racists, sexists, and others. These and other charges are specious. Far from making "extraordinary claims" that "require extraordinary evidence," researchers have identified the existence and consequences of implicit bias through well-established methods based upon principles of cognitive psychology that have been developed in nearly a century's worth of work. We challenge the blanket skepticism and organizational complacency advocated by Tetlock and Mitchell and summarize ten recent studies that no manager (or managerial researcher) should ignore. These studies reveal that students, nurses, doctors, police officers, employment recruiters, and many others exhibit implicit biases with respect to race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, social status, and other distinctions. Furthermore — and contrary to the emphatic assertions of the critics — participants' implicit associations do predict socially and organizationally significant behaviors, including employment, medical, and voting decisions made by working adults.


Priming Risk and Policy Change

David Eckles & Brian Schaffner
University of Georgia Working Paper, August 2009

Public opinion plays an important role in affecting policy outcomes; yet, we know little about how citizens deal with risk when forming attitudes on political issues. In this project, we examine how priming individuals to consider risk affects the political opinions expressed by citizens. We use a survey experiment where all respondents were asked for their views on four policy proposals, but half received a risk prime as they answered these questions while the other half did not. We find that even a subtle risk prime induces significant changes in attitudes on some policy issues and that the effect is particularly pronounced for individuals with less political knowledge and less tolerance for risk.


Conditions for Intuitive Expertise: A Failure to Disagree

Daniel Kahneman & Gary Klein
American Psychologist, September 2009, Pages 515-526

This article reports on an effort to explore the differences between two approaches to intuition and expertise that are often viewed as conflicting: heuristics and biases (HB) and naturalistic decision making (NDM). Starting from the obvious fact that professional intuition is sometimes marvelous and sometimes flawed, the authors attempt to map the boundary conditions that separate true intuitive skill from overconfident and biased impressions. They conclude that evaluating the likely quality of an intuitive judgment requires an assessment of the predictability of the environment in which the judgment is made and of the individual's opportunity to learn the regularities of that environment. Subjective experience is not a reliable indicator of judgment accuracy.


Why do doctored images distort memory?

Robert Nash, Kimberley Wade & Rebecca Brewer
Consciousness and Cognition, September 2009, Pages 773-780

Doctored images can cause people to believe in and remember experiences that never occurred, yet the underlying mechanism(s) responsible are not well understood. How does compelling false evidence distort autobiographical memory? Subjects were filmed observing and copying a Research Assistant performing simple actions, then they returned 2 days later for a memory test. Before taking the test, subjects viewed video-clips of simple actions, including actions that they neither observed nor performed earlier. We varied the format of the video-clips between-subjects to tap into the source-monitoring mechanisms responsible for the ‘doctored-evidence effect.' The distribution of belief and memory distortions across conditions suggests that at least two mechanisms are involved: doctored images create an illusion of familiarity, and also enhance the perceived credibility of false suggestions. These findings offer insight into how external evidence influences source-monitoring.


Knowing You, Knowing Me: Familiarity Moderates Comparison Outcomes to Idealized Media Images

Michael Häfner
Social Cognition, August 2009, Pages 496-508

Based on research concerning the effects of familiarity experiences and the inclusion-exclusion model, this study tests the counterintuitive prediction that particularly famous and therefore familiar media images trigger assimilative comparisons. As a straightforward test, participants in Experiment 1a were presented with either famous or nonfamous idealized media images. It was expected and found that participants who were presented with a famous media image would feel more beautiful than those who were presented with a nonfamous beautiful media image. Experiment 1b replicated this finding by experimentally generating familiarity: Participants who were repeatedly subliminally primed with the comparison standard showed assimilation whereas participants who saw the standard only once (and were primed with another standard) showed contrast. Finally, Experiment 2 directly showed that familiarity experiences moderate comparisons in that the degree to which a given standard triggered a familiarity experience predicted the degree to which participants assimilated their self-image to that standard.


Learning and Opinion Change, Not Priming: Reconsidering the Evidence for the Priming Hypothesis

Gabriel Lenz
American Journal of Political Science, October 2009, Pages 821-837

According to numerous studies, campaign and news media messages can alter the importance individuals place on an issue when evaluating politicians, an effect called priming. Research on priming revived scholarly interest in campaign and media effects and implied, according to some, that campaigns and the media can manipulate voters. There are, however, alternative explanations for these priming findings, alternatives that previous studies have failed to consider fully. In this paper, I reanalyze previous studies and differentiate priming effects from these alternatives using panel data. Across four diverse cases, I find little evidence of priming effects. Instead, campaign and media attention to an issue creates the appearance of priming through a two-part process: Exposing individuals to campaign and media messages on an issue (1) informs some of them about the parties' or candidates' positions on that issue. Once informed, (2) these individuals often adopt their preferred party's or candidate's position as their own. Combined, this process gives rise to the appearance of priming in the absence of actual priming.


Social Vigilantism: Measuring Individual Differences in Belief Superiority and Resistance to Persuasion

Donald Saucier & Russell Webster
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Social vigilantism (SV) is an enduring individual difference that assesses the tendency of individuals to impress and propagate their "superior" beliefs onto others to correct others' more "ignorant" opinions. After establishing a reliable measure of SV, three studies showed that SV was associated with greater expressions of belief superiority (whether reacting to others holding dissimilar or similar beliefs) and greater resistance to persuasion (via increased rates of counterarguing and greater attitude stability after persuasion appeals) even after controlling for relevant individual differences (narcissism, dogmatism, psychological reactance, and need for cognition), as well as attitude importance and extremity. Thus, SV predicts expressions of belief superiority and resistance to persuasion above and beyond characteristics of the attitude and individual difference variables previously studied in the attitude literature. SV is a meaningful construct in increasing the understanding of persuasion, attitude resistance, and attitude dissemination that can be applied in a variety of psychological domains.


Truth in Fiction: The Consequences of Fictional Framing for Political Opinions

Ken Mulligan
Southern Illinois University Working Paper, August 2009

On a typical evening at the end of July, 2009, about 20 million Americans watched the nightly news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC. That same week, according to the Neilsen ratings, more than twice that number — about 45 million — watched crime dramas on CBS alone. The preference for entertainment over news among average Americans comes as no surprise to anyone with even a passing awareness of the public's use of its free time. And yet, despite the fact that most people spend much more time watching entertainment media than news, almost all of what we know about the effects of mass media on political attitudes and behavior comes from theories and research that are focused on, and largely limited to, news media. Although some recent work has dealt with the consequences of late night political comedy, talk shows, and news packaged as entertainment, even this "soft" news carries the patina of factuality, however light and sensationalized. Media researchers in general, and political scientists in particular, have largely ignored explicitly fictional entertainment media — movies, sitcoms, and the like — assuming it has few, if any, real world implications. In this study, I take the opposite view. I posit that fictional entertainment media contain many politically-relevant themes, messages, plots, sub- plots, stereotypes, characters, and portrayals, all of which may influence viewers in any number of ways. In the next section, I sketch the outlines of a theory of fictional media influence. While fiction is fabricated and most people can fairly easily discern fiction from nonfiction, I posit that they nonetheless use fiction, selectively, to inform their beliefs, opinions, and behavior. In this study I focus on one potential type of fictional influence. In the section that follows, I argue that fictional media, like news media, frame political issues in certain ways, and the way that they frame an issue affects how viewers perceive it, their beliefs about it, and, ultimately, their attitudes toward it. I discuss how this likely occurs and the ways it might affect viewers. Following this, I present my first cut at the results of an experiment designed to test the effects of fictional framing on beliefs and attitudes. Participants were assigned at random to watch one of two movies that played widely at the box office, were well received, won awards, and framed the issue of unplanned pregnancy in different ways. About half watched Cider House Rules, which framed the issue in terms of the problems that would arise when abortion is illegal. The other half watched the movie Bel la, which framed the issue in terms of the choice of adoption. I chose the issue of unplanned pregnancy because it is one that is familiar to most people and opinions about the related subject of abortion tend to be entrenched. The results show that these different fictional frames of unplanned pregnancy influenced participants' beliefs and opinions about legalized abortion in ways consistent with the movies' framing of the issue. As a result of watching the movies, those who watched Cider House Rules were more favorable toward legalized abortion and those who watched Bel la where less so. I then consider the process by which fictional media influence attitudes and the factors that may increase or decrease the effects of fictional framing. Although this analysis is preliminary, the results are nonetheless consistent with a simple persuasion model of influence. I show that watching the movies changed beliefs about abortion which, in turn, changed opinions. Finally, I test two potential moderators of fictional framing. First, the extent to which participants were mentally absorbed into the movie and, second, how realistic they perceived the movie to be. The results suggest that people who were absorbed into the story and who saw it as the kind of thing that could happen in real life were more influenced than those who were less absorbed and perceived it as less realistic. I conclude by discussing the results in light of our understanding of mass media influenceon public opinion.

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