MPSA 2020: Conference in a Conference

Emotions in Politics

Panel 5: Blitz presentations

Saturday, April 18th 3:00 – 4:30pm, Location TBA

Using Skin Conductance Reactivity to Measure Empathic Arousal

Author: Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, Matt Duell, Wolfgang Karlstetter

Abstract: Empathy, the ability to relate to and feel what another person is feeling (de Waal 2008), is important politically. There is disagreement, however, over how best to measure empathy. Self-report empathy scales are linked to political ideology and subject to social desirability pressures that raise questions about their validity (Lawrence et al 2004). Some researchers have turned to behavioral measures, such as reading the Mind-In-The-Eyes test (MIE), as an alternative measure of empathic ability. We exposed roughly 100 subjects to neutral and empathy-arousing images to validate common self-report measures such as the Empathic Concern subscale in the Davis (1980) Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and the MIE test. Empathy questions were asked in wave 1 and data was collected in a psychophysiological lab in wave 2. In the lab, subjects’ skin conductance was assessed as they looked at a series of 40 images of people (30 neutral and 10 empathy-arousing). We first determine whether there are consistent individual differences in responses to the 10 empathy-arousing images. We then correlated this overall arousal score with self-report and behavioral measures of empathy, allowing us to assess the validity of common empathy measures. We also discuss problems we encountered in the assessment of skin conductance in this research and conclude by discussing the utility of skin conductance methodology for political science research. 

Political Stress vs. Political Anxiety:  Related but Distinct Concepts

Authors: Melissa N. Baker & Clarisse Warren

Abstract: Stress and anxiety are often conflated in political science research, as both tend to be conceptualized as a general worry about a political event or outcome. Some work has gone as far as saying that stress and anxiety present similarly, so they should not be differentiated. We contend that this distinction should be made, as doing so will allow for a more nuanced understanding of how citizens respond to their political environments.  We define stress as a person’s response to a stressor (or challenge) that they experience in the world, and the stress response is the body’s way to adapt and mobilize to overcome the effects of the stressor.  Anxiety, on the other hand, is described as a secondary emotion characterized by worry, nervousness, or unease about an event or outcome.  Therefore, we argue that stress and anxiety are different, but especially within the context of politics, the two are often related.  Using 2019 data from student and M-Turk samples, we examine experiences of political stress and anxiety, while making a distinction between these two concepts.  Finally, we propose appropriate measures for anxiety and stress and call upon researchers to be mindful when discussing both stress and anxiety, as the two should not be conflated.  

Keywords:  Stress, Anxiety, Politics, Emotion, Political Stress, Political Anxiety

Brief overview:  Stress and anxiety are often related, but they are not the same.  We contend that political stress and anxiety over politics can, and often do, go hand-in-hand; yet, greater understanding can be had by careful and thoughtful separation of the two concepts.  Here we present our case that researchers should be mindful not to conflate stress and anxiety, particularly within the context of a political environment.

Emotion Regulation and Survey Response Quality

Authors: Atkeson, Cawvey, Levens, Maestas

Abstract: How do emotional motivations influence survey response patterns? Researchers have considered how attentiveness influences the quality of responses, but have not examined underlying factors that might contribute to attentiveness such as emotional states. Specifically, we consider how emotion and emotion regulation influence survey response to both closed and open-ended responses. Surveys are often tasked with obtaining opinions about emotion provoking leaders, policies, and events as well as eliciting information about respondents’ emotions about such targets. We draw upon emotion regulation theory to consider how different emotion regulation strategies used by individuals to cope with upsetting news influence survey responses. For example, the emotion regulation strategy of cognitive reappraisal may encourage careful thought and greater attentiveness to questions and answer scales. As a result, reappraisers may appear to be more engaged and thoughtful citizens. We consider these processes and their influence on survey response in a nationally representative survey in the United States in 2017. We collected survey measures of emotions and general emotion regulation habits related to current news. We find some evidence that emotions and emotional states are both more and less likely to influence the likelihood of survey attentiveness.

Looking Right? Ideology and Attention to Emotionally Valenced Images

Author: Warren, Smith & Hibbing

Abstract: Several studies report that, compared to liberals, conservatives are more likely to orient to and fixate on aversive images. At least one other study, however, challenges these results, finding that conservatives tend to avoid attending to aversive images. One potential explanation for the discrepancy in these findings is differences in research protocols, specifically the format of how stimuli were presented. In the former, subjects were presented with four images that filled a computer screen, and conservatives tended to be more attentive to the aversive images. In the latter, subjects were presented with four images separated by white space, and conservatives tended to attend more to the white space, suggesting that given the option they may be more avoidant of aversive images. In the current study we seek to replicate both research protocols to investigate what, if any, generalizable individual-level attentional patterns map onto political beliefs. 

The Relationship between Gender Discrimination and Sociopolitical Behavior

Author: Gothreau

Abstract: The extant literature on discrimination and political behavior suggests that perceptions of marginalization and prejudice increase political engagement and activism. The vast majority of this literature focuses on marginalized racial, ethnic, or religious identities. There is virtually no research on the impact of gender-based discrimination on sociopolitical behavior. Furthermore, much of this work is observational in nature, limiting the causal claims we can make regarding personally-experienced discrimination and political behavior. This paper explores the relationship between personally experienced gender discrimination and political engagement and activism. Using a laboratory experiment, participants received bogus feedback after a cognitive task that led them to believe they performed poorly. Women in the treatment group were told that their gender accounted for their poor performance, priming personally experienced sexism. I consider the role of gender consciousness and linked fate, emotional response, and ideology as moderators in the relationship between exposure to sexism and political engagement. I also measure physiological response in the form of skin conductance (SCL), a common measure of emotional arousal or attentiveness generated by the sympathetic nervous system, to examine subjects’ response to exposure to sexism.