Political opinions: fast herd or slow ideology?

 In decision making, Our latest work, politics, social neuroscience

Sometimes politicians make claims that may seem at odds with the ideological background they represent. Would you agree with your party if they presented a statement that went against their ideological foundation? Put this way, you would probably not, right?

But in fact, you’d very likely do so. It’s been known for a while that in the face of conflicting information about political ideology and group belonging, people tend to follow their group and dispose of their ideology (at least for a while). Group think comes first.

But how does this happen? Does knowing the party provenance of a statement lead to faster or slower responses? Does knowing that statement X comes from party B make it less or more easy to make up your mind?

In a recent study, we have approached this problem, in which the literature has suggested two opposing proposals. On the one hand, knowing the political party behind a statement could trigger some heuristic that makes decisions easier. On the other hand, knowing the sender could trigger a more complex weighing of the opportunities, leading to an overall more difficult decision process (even though it would only take an additional few milliseconds). In two related studies, we used subjects response time to assess the level of conflict, adhering to prior studies (e.g. this one, PDF)

The article is now in press in Political Behavior, and the title might reveal it all…: “Motivated Reasoning and Political Parties: Evidence for Increased Processing in the Face of Party Cues“. The abstract reads as follows:

Extant research in political science has demonstrated that citizens’ opinions on policies are influenced by their attachment to the party sponsoring them. At the same time, little evidence exists illuminating the psychological processes through which such party cues are filtered. From the psychological literature on source cues, we derive two possible hypotheses: (1) party cues activate heuristic processing aimed at minimizing the processing effort during opinion formation, and (2) party cues activate group motivational processes that compel citizens to support 15 the position of their party. As part of the latter processes, the presence of party cues would make individuals engage in effortful motivated reasoning to produce arguments for the correctness of their party’s position. Following psychological research, we use response latency to measure processing effort and, in support of the motivated reasoning hypothesis, demonstrate that across student and nationally representative samples, the presence of party cues increases processing effort.

The PDF is available from this page.


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