Category Archives: Politics

Just because it’s “moral” doesn’t mean it’s “right.”

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“I don’t always think about morality…but when I do, I think Dick Cheney.”

Thus opened Peter Ditto’s talk at the SPSP Political Psychology pre-conference, greeted with a laugh from a largely-left-leaning audience. Yet as Ditto continued speaking, it became clear what he meant. When it comes to social issues, Dick Cheney is right-leaning on almost every single one…except gay marriage. This exception is seemingly entirely due to his emotional connection with his daughter, a happily-married lesbian. Ditto asserts that this political anecdote exemplifies an important empirical point: Our political beliefs are often swayed by our emotions.

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Did you vote? Wear your sticker! Update your status! Send all the tweets!

Many polls are still open, meaning it’s not too late to encourage your friends and family to get out and rock the vote!
 
Yesterday I mentioned that using channel factors to make voting seem easy and convenient can increase voter turnout.
 
Know what else can? Norms! Especially when you use the right kinds of norms.
 
There are two types of norms – descriptive and prescriptive. Prescriptive norms are what society says you should do (like telling your friends that they should vote, or that voting is the “right thing” to do). Descriptive norms, on the other hand, simply describe what people actually do, like merely saying that the majority of people that you know have voted. 
 
As it turns out, people are remarkably sensitive to descriptive norms – sometimes even moreso than norms that try to provide moral or societal guidance. Simply telling people what other people actually do, even without explicitly saying that the target person should do that thing as well, can be a surprisingly strong motivator.
 
Take hotel rooms, for example. Have you been in a hotel room recently? Have you seen those little cards encouraging you to be green and re-use your towels? In one study looking at norms, Noah Goldstein and colleagues tried out different  towel-reuse-cards to see which one would work the best. Each guest at a certain hotel either saw a “Please Reuse Your Towel” card with no normative information, a card mentioning that the “majority of past guests at this hotel have reused their towels,” or an even more specific card mentioning that “the majority of past guests who stayed in this room have reused their towels.” The researchers found that the more specific the normative information, the more likely the guests were to reuse their towels themselves. Telling people that the majority of past guests who stayed in that room reused their towels had an especially strong effect on their likelihood of reusing the towels themselves.
 
That’s fine and all, but can they really work better than prescriptive norms?
 
Sure they can. In a different study, Robert Cialdini was trying to combat a big problem in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Many people would visit this park and then take the petrified wood from the forest with them after they visited, as a sort of souvenir…but this small action, multipled by thousands of visitors, had a dramatically negative effect on the local ecosystem. Cialdini had to find a way to get people to stop taking the wood with them.
 
So what did he do? He placed different norm-based signs in the forest. The sign either used prescriptive norms to tell people what they should do (e.g. “Please don’t take the wood from the forest”) or they used descriptive norms to tell people what others actually do, either telling the truth (“Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified Forest”) or lying (“The vast majority of past visitors have left the petrified wood in the park, preserving the natural state of the Petrified Forest”). In this situation, prescriptive norms worked the best, but the next-best option was the descriptive norm telling people that most other visitors do not take the wood. When people saw the descriptive norm stating that most people take the wood, even though the point of this message was to show how damaging this is, they were significantly more likely to take the wood themselves — because everyone else was doing it. When they saw the descriptive norm saying that most people don’t take the wood, however, it discouraged from taking the wood because doing so would have made them different. 
 
The researchers conclude that when it comes to getting people not to do something (e.g. “Don’t take the wood!”), prescriptive norms work best. However, when you are trying to get people to act, it’s actually more effective to send out an “Everybody’s doing it!” descriptive norm, which will encourage people to fit themselves into the norm.
 
What does this tell us about voting? Since you are trying to get people to do something (not avoid doing something), set strong, positive descriptive norms! Wear your “I Voted” stickers, tweet that you voted, update your Facebook status, and encourage everyone to broadcast the simple fact that they voted to the world! Setting a strong descriptive norm by making it clear that the majority of people are voting is the most effective way to use norm-based compliance to get people out to the polls – it should be even more effective than prescriptive norms stating that it’s what they should be doing. It also helps if these descriptive norms are as specific as possible – knowing that most other people in your age group, sorority/fraternity, neighborhood, club, school, whatever have voted can make the norm more powerful, just like the hotel room norms with the towels. And whatever you do, do NOT accidentally set a descriptive norm saying that most members of someone’s group do not vote (e.g. by saying something like, “Most young people don’t vote! You should go be a leader and let your voice be heard!”) Even though it sounds inspiring, a descriptive norm like that can backfire — BIG time.
 
So slap on that sticker, be a loudmouth, and set some good, strong descriptive norms! You have a few hours left to let people know that everyone’s doin’ it!
 

ResearchBlogging.org

Goldstein, N., Cialdini, R., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels Journal of Consumer Research, 35 (3), 472-482 DOI: 10.1086/586910
Cialdini, R., Demaine, L., Sagarin, B., Barrett, D., Rhoads, K., & Winter, P. (2006). Managing social norms for persuasive impact Social Influence, 1 (1), 3-15 DOI: 10.1080/15534510500181459

Where will you be voting? Figure it out now!

With everyone talking about the importance of “voter turnout,” how do you make sure potential voters make it to the polls?

Simple – make them figure out ahead of time how and when they’ll get there.

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Can we predict the “undecided voters”?

Lars Plougmann / Creative Commons

Now that Election Day is upon us, can you remember way back (a whole few weeks ago!) when there were still those mystical Undecided Voters? Even aside from the sketch comedy skits that mocked their very existence, many people were still wondering how voters could possibly have been “undecided” so close to the election.

However, according to research from Silvia Galdi, Luciano Arcuri, and Bertram Gawronski, those voters might have been “decided” after all – even if they didn’t realize it at the time.

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, How Does Psych Reflect Us All?

“Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.” – Earl Nightingale, American motivational speaker

ResearchBlogging.orgIn 1898, Norman Triplett stumbled upon an interesting observation as he watched a group of cyclists competing in a race: He noticed that the athletes tended to ride faster when they were around other people than when they were alone. He successfully replicated this phenomenon in the laboratory by asking groups of children to reel in spools of fishing line, noting that the children working in pairs reeled the line in faster than those who worked alone. Triplett published the findings, labeled the phenomenon “social facilitation,” and kicked off the entire field of experimental social psychology as we know it with (arguably) the first-ever published social psychology paper.*

The fact that the first paper in social psychology derived its hypotheses from a real-life experience is not surprising. After all, social psychology itself is supposed to be the “scientific study of how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.”1 If people in a field that revolves around interpersonal interactions don’t draw our examples and scientific questions from real life, from where exactly are we supposed to get them?

Yet it’s not only casual anecdotes, observations, or everyday happenings that have influenced the trajectory of our field. Social psychology has actually served a truly interesting historical function: Throughout the years, the field has managed to become a cultural mirror, consistently reflecting society’s standards, norms, and cultural traditions in its zeitgeists and trends. Going back through the annals of social psychological science can almost feel like reading a history textbook; as you parse through the findings, you see how the current events, pop culture, societal phenomena, and core values of each era shifted and grew along with the research trends.

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Sure, women cannot get pregnant from rape. Also, all mean people are ugly and puppies are immortal.

[Potential trigger warning: Discussion of rape and sexual assault in this post.]

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear:

If you have vaginal sex without protection, you can get pregnant.

For some reason, this concept can be remarkably difficult for people to grasp. It toes the line between “sad” and “kind of funny” when this ignorance simply leads people to wonder if they can successfully avoid pregnancy by having sex while standing up, in a hot tub, or without climaxing.

But when a Senate nominee like Representative Todd Akin tries to claim that a woman’s body can somehow “know” when she is being raped and avoid pregnancy as a result? That’s an entirely new, scary level of ignorance.

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SPSP 2012: Political Polarization


What’s that?

This is some sort of big year for American politics?

Ah, yes – it’s 2012. We’re in the middle of the Republican primaries, there’s a presidential election in 9 months, and political psychology was all over this year’s SPSP conference, including a symposium on Friday morning titled “Political Polarization.”

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