MPSA 2020: Conference in a Conference

Emotions in Politics

Panel 1: The consequences of emotions

Saturday, April 18th 8:00 – 9:30am, Location TBA

“Inhibition or Ideology? The Neural Mechanisms of Evaluating Race-Targeted Government Assistance”

Authors: Gonzalez & Haas:

Abstract: When are people most able to inhibit racial biases in political evaluations? A common idea is that by making race salient, individuals can use controlled processing to inhibit automatic racial biases and abide by egalitarian norms. However, it may be the case that controlled processing polarizes individuals based on their ideological predispositions. We implemented two experiments using fMRI and explicit versus implicit racial primes to test this hypothesis and identify the neural processes associated with conscious versus nonconscious racial policy evaluations, and whether these processes (and their outcomes) differ across the ideological spectrum. We find that areas associated with conflict detection and controlled processing are more active when race is explicit, and anti-Black racial biases are less likely when race is explicit, as expected. Critically, the neural processes underlying implicit versus explicit racial evaluations, and the decision-making biases associated with these processes, differed for liberals and conservatives. We discuss our findings in terms of interventions for reducing the influence of racial prejudice on policy attitudes, as well as the relationship between prejudice and ideology.

Brief overview: We present two fMRI studies on the neural processes underlying implicit versus explicit racial evaluations. They show that areas associated with conflict detection and controlled processing are activated when race is are explicit.

When do people pursue their economic self-interest? Pride, shame and attitudes about economic redistribution

Author: Kristina Jessen Hansen & Jens Peter Frølund Thomsen from Aarhus University.

Abstract: Self-interest is a basic human motivation. However, numerous studies have shown that people often form preferences that go against their economic self-interest – for example in the context of economic redistribution. We propose and test a theoretical framework about how the self-conscious emotions of pride and shame regulate human motivation to engage in self-seeking behavior. Both pride and shame evolved to closely track social valuation and thereby the leeway to engage in selfish behavior. Pride is triggered when the individual perceive the self to have high social value, which in turn fosters expectations of preferential treatment and self-seeking behavior. Shame, by contrast, is triggered by perceptions of low social valuation and motivates submissive and prosocial behavior. We test this theoretical framework with experimental and observational studies.

Brief overview: Self-interest is a basic human motivation. Yet, often people act against it. In two studies, we show how two self-conscious emotions, pride and shame, influence whether people engage in self-seeking behavior.

Exploring the affective consequences of rationalizing vs. challenging income inequality

Author: Hannah Nam & Miuchelle lo-Low

Abstract: Previous work suggests that emotions, such as anger and moral outrage, play a critical role in mobilizing people to political action. However, rationalization of the status quo has also been associated with reduced negative affect, suggesting the possibility that endorsing existing inequalities may serve, in some sense, a coping strategy to regulate negative feelings that arise when one is confronted with systemic inequality. We report three experiments examining primarily whether (1) exposure to rising economic inequality elicits negative emotions (vs. complacent or positive emotions), and (2) exposure to rationalization of inequality (vs. challenges to inequality vs. mere exposure to inequality) can provide a protective “buffer” against negative emotions triggered by inequality. We also explore potential effects on policy attitudes and political participation, as well as whether such modulation of affect through rationalization of inequality can also help to explain potential changes in policy preferences and political action. If rationalization of an inegalitarian status quo diminishes emotions that would typically motivate political action (e.g., anger), this work suggests that short-term coping strategies for emotion regulation may serve to maintain long-term inequality.

Brief overview: Rationalization of the status-quo can reduce negative affect, which otherwise leads to political action. We present findings on whether rationalization acts as a “buffer” against negative emotions over economic inequality.

Political Engagement and Susceptibility to Anxiety

Author: Melissa N. Baker

Abstract: When experiencing political anxiety over issues (e.g., immigration) or events (e.g., 9/11) people seek out more political information, particularly information that is threatening and relevant to the source of anxiety. But is this anxiety felt by everyone in the same way and does it lead to the same types of political behaviors in different types of people? In this paper, I argue that personal traits determine whether an individual experiences anxiety over politics and if that experience of political anxiety leads to a change in political behaviors. The personal traits I focus on are levels of political interest and trait anxiety (i.e. inherent levels of anxiety, regardless the context or relevance to politics) because they operate through attention, a necessary component for experiencing political anxiety. Individuals who are higher in these traits should experience anxiety more often and higher levels of anxiety. Once an individual experiences political anxiety, they should be more likely to seek out general political information and participate in politics than individuals who do not experience political anxiety. I run two experiments, a traditional randomized experiment and a selection experiment. The latter allows me to test the role of these personal traits in experiencing anxiety over politics and information seeking behavior. Within these experiments, I also test how experiencing anxiety influences political behaviors (i.e. contacting politicians) that stem from information seeking.