MPSA 2020: Conference in a Conference

Emotions in Politics

Panel 3: Emotions in reasoning and ways to overcome them

Saturday, April 18th 11:30am – 1:00pm, Location TBA

Understanding Cycles of Retributive Violence: A Lab in the Field Experiment in Michoacán

Authors: Hannah Baron (Brown University), Omar Garcia-Ponce (GWU), Lauren Young (UC Davis), and Thomas Zeitzoff (AU)

Abstract: Support for harsh punishments can lead to the miscarriage of justice or even a downward spiral of violence. Yet in many communities affected by violence, residents seem to support harsh and even extrajudicial punishments in large numbers. What are the cognitive processes underlying this support? Are harsh punishments and the candidates who champion them supported because residents of crime-affected communities deeply believe that they are effective deterrents? Or are they supported because people affected by crime also value retribution, even if it comes at the cost of security or civil liberties? More fundamentally, is support for harsh punishments driven by well-informed and deeply considered decision-making, or is it driven in part by transitory emotions or information gaps that make it harder for people to make decisions that are in line with their long-term interests? We ran a “lab-in-the-field” experiment in which 748 participants were randomized into one of two versions of a half-day deliberation on community responses to crime, or a control group. In one version of the deliberation sessions, participants were trained in cognitive reappraisal, a common emotion regulation technique, and asked to discuss and reappraise their negative emotions during the deliberation. Preliminary analysis shows that participants may be slightly more supportive of harsh punishments after the deliberation sessions, particularly those that involved explicit discussion of emotions. Secondary beliefs about others’ support for harsh punishments may be a key mechanism. 

Does Emotional Self-regulation Correlate with Self-reported Threat Sensitivity & Prejudice

Author: Jordan Mansell (Université du Québec à Montréal), Allison Harell (Université du Québec à Montréal), Michael Bang Petersen (Aarhus University), Clarisse Warren (University of Nebraska Lincoln)

Abstract: An emerging body of research in biology, political science, and psychology shows that the sensitivity to negative stimuli (threatening or disgusting stimuli) is a significant predictor of prejudicial attitudes towards ethnic out-groups. Part of a project investigating the ties between emotions, emotional self-regulation, and prejudicial attitudes we test a behavioural task intended to capture differences in individuals’ ability to self-regulate negative emotions. We measure participants’ ability to subitize, to rapidly and accurately count, between 3-5 geometric shapes. Subitizing is a relatively simple cognitive task however, doing so effectively requires that participants maintain their focus. To test participants’ ability to self-regulate their emotions we disrupt their focus during the subitizing task by randomly manipulating the left and rights sides of the screen to include positive, neutral, and negative images. Participants complete a total of 45 trials, 15 for each stimulus. Following these trials, we examine whether participants’ task performance during the negative image trials predicts self-reported levels of disgust, prejudicial attitudes towards ethnic out-groups, and opposition to immigration. This study uses a sample of (n=250) online participants. The sample is selected to reflect demographics based on US census data for education and income. The sample is also balanced by ideological orientation.

Brief overview: We present results on whether emotional self-regulation is related to self-reported threat sensitivity and prejudice.

Emotional Responses to Immigration News: Social Desirability or Motivational Cue?

Author: Ming Boyer (University of Vienna)

Abstract: News about immigration can be threatening, which can lead to negative attitudes toward immigrants. A common explanation is motivated reasoning: a social identity threat causes negative emotional responses, like anger, which leads citizens to counterargue information that is threatening to their social group more strongly than information that bolsters it. However, the common use of self-report emotions about immigration has two fundamental complications: (1) they are prone to social desirability because citizens are afraid to be racist, and (2) if citizens filter their answers for attitudinal questions regarding immigration, they surely also do so for self-report emotions. Any correlation between the two are therefore likely caused by the same biases. In this experiment (N = 200) we expose participants to a (threatening vs. non-threatening) news item about immigration and measure emotions with both physiological and self-report measures. By comparing these with measures of counterarguing and immigration attitudes, we aim to phase out the extent to which motivated reasoning is actually related to emotional responses to immigration news and help to decipher the role of emotions in political motivations.

Brief overview: we aim to phase out the extent to which motivated reasoning is actually related to emotional responses to immigration news and help to decipher the role of emotions in political motivations.

The Psychophysiological Correlates of Affective Reasoning

Authors: Gavin Ploger, Johanna Dunaway, Patrick Fournier and Stuart Soroka

Abstract: There are long-standing literatures in political psychology and communication focused on the consequences of cognitive dissonance. Work on both selective exposure and motivated reasoning is premised on the notion that counter-attitudinal information produces a physical, affective discomfort; and this discomfort leads to a bias towards pro-attitudinal news content, for instance, or complex and convoluted arguments against information that might otherwise seem incontestable. Given signs of increasing political polarization, and increasing control over our news streams via algorithms and social media, this work is of some importance. It is nevertheless the case that cognitive dissonance is typically inferred from other behaviors and attitudes rather than observed directly. This paper considers another possibility. Drawing on recent work in political psychophysiology, we explore the extent to which cognitive dissonance, and the affective reactions that follow, can be observed using standard physiological measures. We develop our hypotheses using a small body of data gathered in Michigan in 2018; and then test our hypotheses using a second body of cross-national data gathered from 2014 to 2018.

Brief overview: Drawing on recent work in political psychology, we explore the extent to which cognitive dissonance and the affective reactions that follow can be observed using standard physiological measures.