The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘McCain’

Us & Them Politics

Posted by Al Sahlstrom on October 28, 2008

In just over a week, we will see a referendum on “Joe Six-Pack” politics. Over the past decade or two, the Republican Party has promoted a political fiction that conflates wholesomeness, independence, tradition, and common sense with anti-intellectualism and suspicion of outsiders. More recently, Sarah Palin has championed the effort to highlight the supposed division between secular liberal coastal elites and “normal” Americans. By her own words, Palin believes that small towns are “the real America” and she has warned that Barack Obama “is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America.” While it might be comforting to dismiss these efforts as a desperate appeal to emotional voters who don’t know or don’t care about the substantive issues in this election, the persistence of these “us vs. them” arguments in our current political paradigm hints at deeper reasons for concern.

Regardless of policy expertise, is there reason to think that makes a difference whether Sarah Palin is a moose-hunting, “Joe Six-Pack” conservative Christian? Yes. Humans are fundamentally social and those distinctions matter – no matter which side of them you may be on. In fact, our affinity for those with similar backgrounds provides an important means of making sense of the world and strengthening ties with others. We have such a natural predisposition for “birds of a feather” to “flock together” that even groups formed with no prior connection among the members (or no meaningful connection at all) can demonstrate a preference for their comrades over those outside the group. Social psychologists call this the “minimal group” paradigm: Individuals randomly assigned to one group over another, absent any rational justification, engage in self-evaluation that favors their new group and strengthens their affiliation with its members. In cultural, family, or political groups, our affiliation with others can provide a comforting means of evaluating the immense, complex web of incomplete information with which we are presented in everyday life. Psychologists have even found that identification of a policy proposal as being from one’s own party can be more determinative of an individual’s approval than the actual content of the proposed policy.

Because our evaluation of policies and political candidates is not purely rational, candidates like Sarah Palin can invoke existing or imagined group affiliations to reframe the political landscape and override other, more rational considerations.

All of this matters because, regardless of who draws the lines in the sand, these tactics do not uniquely manipulate one segment of the country or one end of the political spectrum. Rather they impact all of us by contributing to a situation that alters our perceptions, incites prejudice, and affects behavior across the board. When political tacticians push small town Americans to claim moral superiority over the rest of the country, the resulting climate encourages liberal, college-educated Americans to ignore the complexity in regional and local politics in favor of their own self-serving views. In short, the idea that liberals are more rational or intellectual than conservatives perpetuates a simplistic, partisan view that precludes empathy and interferes with positive change.

It is neither novel nor surprising that this presidential campaign has seen attempts to mobilize support based on identity appeals and false dichotomies. But as we decide which candidate will best face the domestic and international challenges of the next four years, it is worth remembering that our perceptions of those issues and ideas are inherently shaped by how we view ourselves in relation to those with different backgrounds and opposing perspectives. Unless we account for how “Joe Six-Pack” politics manipulate and polarize our political views, Conservatives will never be independent and Liberals will never truly be rational.

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For a related Situationist post, see “Without the Filter.”

Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Patricia Devine on Resisting Implicit Associations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 4, 2008

Nicole Fritz has a nice article summarizing research of Patricia Devine, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor. Here’s a sample.

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It is a question on many Americans’ minds: Is the United States ready for a black president, or will deep-rooted and even unconscious prejudices show at the polls?

For Patricia Devine, . . . who researches prejudice, the answer isn’t black and white.

“Your conscious mind might tell you to vote for [Obama], but in the privacy of the election booth your unconscious biases may vote differently,” Devine says.

However, Devine holds out when she reflects on the outcome of the election. “It remains to be seen but, cautiously, I think America is ready.”

It is Devine’s rare and constant optimism in people that during the past two decades has changed the field of prejudice psychology.

“Extensive amounts of research have demonstrated the prevalence of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, but where others saw mere statistics, Trish saw an opportunity. The premise upon which much of her research is based is that people desire to be good,” says Laura Sheets, one of Devine’s students and lab assistants. “In her personality, lectures and research, Trish consistently conveys this message of optimism.”

In the 1980s, when equal rights were beginning to become a cultural norm, many pessimistic researchers thought people who responded that they were non-prejudiced but then acted with bias were simply liars. Devine trusted the people’s responses and embarked on journey to find out why people want to free themselves of prejudice but unconsciously act with bias.

* * *

Devine started her research as a graduate student at Ohio State University, moving to UW-Madison in 1985 to become an associate professor. She has spent almost 25 years working to put together what she calls her “prejudice puzzle.”

The first puzzle piece was the difference between controlled or conscious and automatic or unconscious responses. In the ’80s, when prejudice was the domain of social psychology, Devine used cognitive psychology research on intentional versus unintentional responses to explain why people will respond with controlled non-prejudiced answers when they have time to process questions, but will have automatic biased actions without processing time.

First, individuals took surveys to show their conscious level of prejudice. Then they took an Implicit Association Test (IAT), a picture/word association test that asks participants to respond as quickly as possible to whether a face or image or phrase is good or bad.

* * *

Devine explains that these biased automatic responses in IATs come from a socialization process that encourages prejudice.

“[Prejudice] is the legacy of our socialization experiences. We all learn these stereotypes and have these biases at the ready whether we condone them or not, whether we think they are good or not, and as a result the immediate reaction is a biased one,” Devine explains. “If you are going to respond in nonbiased ways, you have to gain control or override the automatically activated stereotypic response and instead respond in these thoughtful deliberate ways that might represent your personal values.

* * *

Devine explains that eliminating prejudice is like breaking a habit — in the same way that she had to consciously stop biting her nails as a child, people who want to break the prejudice habit every day have to be aware of their own internal prejudice.

“[Eliminating prejudice] is a process. Making that decision is the first step, but then what you have to do is put some effort into it,” Devine says. “Just making the decision doesn’t mean you wake up one day, stretch and say ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because you have got this whole socialization experience that you grew up with.”

To support her view that people with conflicting responses are not liars, Devine broke up participants into two groups: high prejudice and low prejudice. The key difference between the two groups is that high-prejudice people will respond with prejudice and not have internal conflict, but low-prejudice people who respond with prejudice feel guilty afterward.

This guilt, what Devine calls prejudice with compunction, is the key to eliminating prejudice.

“When people’s values conflicted, what I predicted is that if they were sincere in their non-prejudicial beliefs, they would feel guilty and self-critical and they would hold themselves accountable,” Devine says. “When given a chance, [low-prejudice] people tried to learn from mistakes, tried to absorb material and at the next opportunity when prejudice was possible, they responded in a fair and unbiased way.”

* * *

Devine . . . began to research student motivation for non-prejudiced behavior and how students could be better reached. [For more, click here.]

In addition to IAT, Devine used startle-eye blink tests, which places sensors on participants’ eyes and then measures their automatic startled-blink response to different faces. Once again the tests proved discrepancies between the reported and automatic response. But what Devine was interested in was the motivations behind the controlled responses.

Devine found that people have both internal motivations (personal values and standards) and external motivations (pressure from society) to act without bias. Through her research, Devine has learned people can be internally motivated, externally motivated or both internally and externally motivated with no correlation between the motivations.

Her research has also shown that it is only the internal motivations that allow people to act without bias in both controlled and automatic responses. People who are externally motivated or internally and externally motivated respond without prejudice on explicit self-report measures but respond in biased ways on implicit measures that do not allow for control over responses.

By knowing the different motivations of individuals, professionals can try to eliminate prejudice via different methods.

“High internal/high external individuals are not good at responding without bias so what they need is help learning to respond without bias. They already have the motivation; we need to give them the skills,” Devine says. “For the high external individuals, we need to create internal motivation. That is what will rid them of prejudice over time.”

Devine’s latest research shows external motivation pushes can cause negative backlash in society, especially on college campuses.

“The low internal/high external individuals, on a campus like this, receive a lot of pressure, and not in a gentle way. People say ‘The way you think is wrong and people who like you are stupid.’ You start to get irritated and you push the message away,” Devine says. “That is one of the things I worry about: backlash. The harder non-prejudiced norms are pushed on them, the more they cement their walls of resistance. For such individuals, reducing prejudice requires finding ways to crack those walls of resistance.”

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As for Devine, although the possibility of a black president shows a growth in prejudice reduction, she sees 25 more years of puzzle-fitting in her future.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

For some posts examining the the role of implicit associations in elections, see “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Posted in Conflict, Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 8, 2008

We recently highlighted the possible role of implicit associations in the John McCain ad connecting Barack Obama to Britany Spears and Paris Hilton. To continue the discussion of possible subconscious manipulations in political ads, we bring you an interesting new article on McCain’s “The One” ad by Amy Sullivan of Time Magazine. Sullivan examines whether The One (available above) implicitly suggests that Obama is the Antichrist. We excerpt her article below.

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The Republican nominee’s advisers brush off the charges, arguing that the spot was meant to be a “creative” and “humorous” way of poking fun at Obama’s popularity by painting him as a self-appointed messiah. But even this innocuous interpretation of the ad — which includes images of Charlton Heston as Moses and culled clips that make Obama sound truly egomaniacal — taps into a conversation that has been gaining urgency on Christian radio and political blogs and in widely circulated e-mail messages that accuse Obama of being the Antichrist.

The ad was the creation of Fred Davis, one of McCain’s top media gurus as well as a close friend of former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and the nephew of conservative Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. It first caught the attention of Democrats familiar with the Left Behind series, a fictionalized account of the end-time that debuted in the 1990s and has sold nearly 70 million books worldwide. “The language in there is so similar to the language in the Left Behind books,” says Tony Campolo, a leading progressive Evangelical speaker and author.

As the ad begins, the words “It should be known that in 2008 the world shall be blessed. They will call him The One” flash across the screen. The Antichrist of the Left Behind books is a charismatic young political leader named Nicolae Carpathia who founds the One World religion (slogan: “We Are God”) and promises to heal the world after a time of deep division. One of several Obama clips in the ad features the Senator saying, “A nation healed, a world repaired. We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.”

Image from Left Behind Series

Image from Left Behind Series

The visual images in the ad, which Davis says has been viewed even more than McCain’s “Celeb” ad linking Obama to the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, also seem to evoke the cover art of several Left Behind books. But they’re not the cartoonish images of clouds parting and shining light upon Obama that might be expected in an ad spoofing him as a messiah. Instead, the screen displays a sinister orange light surrounded by darkness and later the faint image of a staircase leading up to heaven.

Perhaps the most puzzling scene in the ad is an altered segment from The 10 Commandments that appears near the end. A Moses-playing Charlton Heston parts the animated waters of the Red Sea, out of which rises the quasi-presidential seal the Obama campaign used for a brief time earlier this summer before being mocked into retiring it. The seal, which features an eagle with wings spread, is not recognizable like the campaign’s red-white-and-blue “O” logo. That confused Democratic consultant Eric Sapp until he went to his Bible and remembered that in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Antichrist is described as rising from the sea as a creature with wings like an eagle.

* * *

Mara Vanderslice, another Democratic consultant, who handled religious outreach for the 2004 Kerry campaign, agrees. “If they wanted to be funny, if they really wanted to play up the idea that Obama thinks he’s the Second Coming, there were better ways to do it,” she says. “Why use these awkward lines like, ‘And the world will receive his blessings’?”

* * *

It’s not hard to see how some Obama haters might be tempted to make the comparison. In the Left Behind books, Carpathia is a junior Senator who speaks several languages, is beloved by people around the world and fawned over by a press corps that cannot see his evil nature, and rises to absurd prominence after delivering just one major speech. Hmmh. But serious Antichrist theorists don’t stop there. Everything from Obama’s left-handedness to his positive rhetoric to his appearance on the cover of this magazine has been cited as evidence of his true identity. One chain e-mail claims that the Antichrist was prophesied to be “A man in his 40s of MUSLIM descent,” which would indeed sound ominous if not for the fact that the Book of Revelation was written at least 400 years before the birth of Islam.

The speculation reached a fever pitch after Obama’s European trip and the Berlin speech in which he called for global unity. Conservative Christian author Hal Lindsey declared in an essay on WorldNetDaily, “Obama is correct in saying that the world is ready for someone like him — a messiah-like figure, charismatic and glib … The Bible calls that leader the Antichrist. And it seems apparent that the world is now ready to make his acquaintance.” The conservative website RedState.com now sells mugs and T shirts that sport a large “O” with horns and the words “The Anti-Christ” underneath.

* * *

A new TIME poll finds that the most conservative Evangelicals are the least enthusiastic about McCain’s candidacy. Convincing them that Obama does have two horns and a tail might be the best way of getting them to vote. That’s what worries Campolo, who also sits on the Democratic Party’s platform committee. “Those books have created a subliminal language, and I think judgments will be made unconsciously about Barack Obama,” he says. “It scares the daylights out of me.”

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To read the rest of the article, which is well worth the read, click here. To read a blog devoted to the belief that Obama is the Antichrist, click here.  As a point of comparison to McCain’s “The One” ad, check out the Swift Boat ad that was waged against John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” “New Yorker Cover of the Obamas and Source Amnesia,” “Voting for a Face,” “The Situation of Swift-Boating,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.” For other posts on the Situation of politics, click here.

Posted in Entertainment, Implicit Associations, Life, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , | 20 Comments »

Political Psychology in 2008

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 5, 2008

Sharon Begley has a very interesting article, “How Our Unconscious Votes,” in HealthNewsDigest.com. Here’s an excerpt.

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Give the democrats of West Virginia points for honesty. As Hillary Clinton romped to a landslide of 67 to 26 percent over Barack Obama in the primary, 20 percent of voters in exit polls said that race was an important factor in their choice—triple the percentage of earlier primaries. Of those, 80 percent voted for Clinton, making clear what they meant by “important.”

Obama’s “black supremacist” minister concerns her, one woman told my colleague Suzanne Smalley. Another found Obama’s “background, his heritage” suspicious. Both said they’d vote for John McCain over Obama.

The 2008 campaign has been subjected to more psychological analysis than Woody Allen. The top Democratic candidates asked psychology researchers for input, as did the national party, several state parties and the House and Senate Democratic caucuses. The 2007 book “The Political Brain,” by psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University, became a must-read for strategists, and so far it looks as though they got their money’s worth: key predictions of political psychology have held up pretty well on the campaign trail. Voters are driven more by emotions than by a cold-eyed, logical analysis of a candidate’s record and positions; witness the legions of anti-immigration Republicans who pulled the lever for McCain. Ten-point plans (Clinton) don’t move voters as powerfully as inspirational oratory (Obama). And unconscious motivations are stronger than conscious ones. This last finding might explain the growing role of racism in the campaign as well as the persistent “happiness gap” between liberals and conservatives—both of which will matter in November.

In March, when I wrote about research showing that people ignore race if another salient trait is emphasized, scientists agreed that Obama had to convey that “he is one of us.” That “us” could be Democrats, family men, opponents of the Iraq invasion, enemies of politics as usual. Instead, opponents (and the media) began playing up his “otherness”—not wearing a flag pin, belonging to a black church, having an exotic name. And Obama began slipping, losing support among blue-collar white voters in particular.

It may seem paradoxical, but to stop the bleeding Obama needs to talk about race more often and more explicitly. “Only 3 or 4 percent of people today consciously endorse racist sentiments,” says Westen. “But there are residues of prejudice at the unconscious level, and they aren’t difficult to activate if you know how to do it. Our better angels on race tend to be our conscious rather than our unconscious values and emotions.” It is those conscious brain circuits that Obama needs to keep activating, says Westen, “by talking about racism openly and attacking those who say white America will never vote for a black for president. Appeal to people’s conscious values.” That has a good chance of keeping unconscious racism at bay, brain studies show. Even more effective, combine direct talk about racism with an “I am like you” message, which leads the brain to focus on categories other than race. “Make it about ‘us’,” says Westen. “Talk about how we feel angry if a black fireman gets promoted ahead of us for no reason but affirmative action. Talk about how it’s natural to look at someone different from us and ask, does he share my values, can he understand me?”

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To read the entire article, including a discussion of Situationist contributor John Jost’s recent work, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” “New Yorker Cover of the Obamas and Source Amnesia,” “Voting for a Face,” “The Situation of Swift-Boating,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.” For other posts on the Situation of politics, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 1, 2008

Posted in Entertainment, History, Implicit Associations, Politics, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Perceptions of Racial Divide

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 30, 2008

Sam Sommers has another terrific post (this one titled “Obama and the Racial Divide”) on the Psychology Today blog. Here are some excerpts.

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[T]he Times poll indicates that a majority of White and Black Americans think progress towards racial equality is being made, but only Whites seem to be getting more optimistic over time regarding the general state of race relations. Why is this? Well, in large part it seems to be the case that Whites and Blacks use different reference points in answering these questions.

In a series of research studies, Yale social psychologist Richard Eibach has observed the comparable result that White Americans typically perceive more progress towards racial equality than do Blacks. One reason for this racial gulf is that Whites typically answer the type of question found in the Times poll by comparing the present to the past, whereas Blacks tend to answer it by comparing the present to the racial ideals they envision for the future.

In other words, when you ask White Americans about race relations in this country, on average they tend to respond by thinking, well, things are certainly better now than they used to be, so I’ll say we’re doing OK. Blacks, on the other hand, are more likely to think about their personal experiences with prejudice or current racial disparities in important outcomes like health, income, or employment. Accordingly, Blacks more typically think, things still aren’t as good as they could or should be, so we’re not doing so great.

* * *

So some of this racial disparity reflects different reference points used by Whites and Blacks in answering these questions. Anytime you ask someone for a global assessment of anything—whether marital happiness, job satisfaction, or the state of the economy—the reference point they choose to use is hugely important in determining the answer they give. . . .

But there also remains a more pessimistic interpretation of this racial divergence in opinions. Some of it clearly has to do with self-interest. In another set of studies, Eibach concludes that many White Americans view gains in racial equality as personal losses, whereas Black Americans see them as personal gains. Of course, it’s hard to get people to support movements that they see as working against their self-interests, suggesting that this gulf between Whites and Blacks can’t be bridged completely by getting everyone to focus on the same point of reference.

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To read the entire piece, click here.

For a sample of previous posts examining situational elements of voting or, specifically, the 2008 presidential election, see ” On Being a Mindful Voter,” Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Blogroll, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Voting for a Face

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 6, 2008

Barack Obama - Image by omgsaywhatt - FlickrAnn Ryman for the Arizona Republic has an interesting piece summarizing the research examining how looks influence votes. Here are a few excerpts.

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A growing body of research supports the notion that a candidate’s attempts to establish himself as a powerful leader can be helped or hurt by his facial features. Appearance is not, of course, the sole factor that sways voters, but experts who have studied the link between faces and people’s perceptions say we place more emphasis on looks than we think.

Facial structure can play a role in how trustworthy, strong and charismatic we perceive someone to be, said Caroline Keating, a psychology professor at Colgate University who studies facial structure and perceptions of power.

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“One reason why it’s so important for us to perceive our leaders as competent, credible and sincere is because that makes us feel secure,” Keating said. “We identify with leaders. If leaders look confident, brave, bold and true, then we feel we can take on the world.”

Keating has conducted research on people’s reactions to former Presidents Reagan and Kennedy. Using digital images, she made subtle, almost undetectable changes designed to enhance or diminish their facial features and tested reactions. . . .

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There is evidence that people can often predict the election winners just by looking at faces.

John McCain Image by Wigwam Jones - FlickrAlexander Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology at Princeton University, gave people photos of unfamiliar political candidates who won and were runners-up in state governor races. He asked people to pick the most competent candidates, and they chose the winners 68 percent of the time.

Whether this reliance on snap judgments is good or bad is hard to tell, Keating said.

“What’s the job of a leader? It’s to move us,” she said. “If you don’t look sincere, then you’re never going to move anybody. You’re not going to instill in them the confidence and the emotional tenor you need to get them to sign onto the programs you think are important. So, when it comes to motivating people, it’s all about the non-verbal.”

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To read the entire article (which includes a analysis of McCain and Obama’s facial features, click here. For other posts on the Situation of politics, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Interpreting Facial Expressions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2008

Clinton McCain ObamaDel Jones of USA Today has an interesting piece on the research of Dan Hill, an expert in facial coding, a system of classifying hundreds of tiny muscle movements in the face. Below is a brief excerpt from the article as it pertains to the expressions of Senators Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

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“It is presidential season and Hill, president of Sensory Logic and author of a book about facial coding called Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds, has been in demand to find clues in the faces of the candidates. John McCain forces smiles and, true to his reputation, angers easily, as demonstrated by puffed cheeks and a chin thrust upward in disgust, Hill says. Hillary Clinton smirks, an expression “she oddly enough shares with President Bush,” which conveys an attitude of assurance bordering on superiority and smugness. Barack Obama has the best true smile, but flashes it rarely for someone who speaks of hope, and Hill sees flashes of disdain, aloofness, disappointment and exasperation.”

To watch a video of Dan Hill’s analysis of the smiles of several candidates, click on the video below.

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Undoubtedly, people’s facial expressions often speak louder than their words about their attitudes, emotions, and associations. And it is certainly the case that scientists are learning more every day about the sources and meaning of those facial expressions. Still, we have our doubts about the reliability Hill’s process of facial-coding, particularly given his seeming readiness to reach firm conclusions about a given individual’s stable preferences, emotional states, or attitudes through that process.

For other Situationist posts on politics, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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