January 30, 2006

Social psychology and politics.

Social psychologists examine political behavior:
Studies presented at [a conference last week] produced evidence that emotions and implicit assumptions often influence why people choose their political affiliations, and that partisans stubbornly discount any information that challenges their preexisting beliefs.

Emory University psychologist Drew Westen put self-identified Democratic and Republican partisans in brain scanners and asked them to evaluate negative information about various candidates. Both groups were quick to spot inconsistency and hypocrisy -- but only in candidates they opposed.

When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it, Westen said. When the unpalatable information was rejected, furthermore, the brain scans showed that volunteers gave themselves feel-good pats -- the scans showed that "reward centers" in volunteers' brains were activated. The psychologist observed that the way these subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. We process new information by incorporating it into what we already understand. How could we possibly think and get on in the world if we didn't?
Another study presented at the conference, which was in Palm Springs, Calif., explored relationships between racial bias and political affiliation by analyzing self-reported beliefs, voting patterns and the results of psychological tests that measure implicit attitudes -- subtle stereotypes people hold about various groups.

That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.
Not surprisingly, given that first study, Bush partisans find ways to discount this study:
Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said he disagreed with the study's conclusions but that it was difficult to offer a detailed critique, as the research had not yet been published and he could not review the methodology. He also questioned whether the researchers themselves had implicit biases -- against Republicans -- noting that Nosek and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji had given campaign contributions to Democrats.

"There are a lot of factors that go into political affiliation, and snap determinations may be interesting for an academic study, but the real-world application seems somewhat murky," Jones said.
So how did they do the study? Actually, it was an on-line test that I'm sure many of you took. I know I did:
For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.
Do you find yourself thinking of lots of ways to discount the study? Is it because you're a Bush partisan? And if you're thinking the study is pretty good, well, aren't you a Bush opponent?

26 comments:

Bruce Hayden said...

Agreed.

The minute I saw the thing on race I started thinking, got to be wrong. Then, when I saw it was online, I said ah-ha.

Repeating the thought pattern. I don't think of myself as a racist, but am/was a Bush supporter. So, figured that there was something wrong with the study when it tied the first two together, and jumped on the first thing I saw.

Jake said...

This is junk science at its worst.

Using the same methodology, I can set up a study that shows that Democrats have the greater tendency toward pedophilia than Republicans.

Jacques Cuze said...

Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said he disagreed with the study's conclusions but that it was difficult to offer a detailed critique, as the research had not yet been published and he could not review the methodology. He also questioned whether the researchers themselves had implicit biases -- against Republicans -- noting that Nosek and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji had given campaign contributions to Democrats.

There is no reason to question if the researchers had implicit biases. Of course they do. Just like everyone does. Quxxo, Ann Althouse, Judge Alito.

The fix for implicit biases is double blind studies, transparency, open questioning without dodging, and filibusters.

Meade said...

Jon Krosnick, a psychologist and political scientist at Stanford University... said the basic correlation was not in doubt.

"If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they [sic] are in denial," he said.


Unencumbered by any real expertise in psychology, I'll boldly venture to guess that any academician who insists that skepticism about these findings (or any other findings for that matter) reflects the use of a pathological defense mechanism (denial) may be, himself, a bit nutty.

Goatwhacker said...

It would be better to see the numbers before commenting on the second study, which is really a poll. I would not be surprised to see a slight difference in racial bias, but would be surprised to see a major difference as that doesn't match my experience.

The first study has a way to verify the subject's self-reporting, namely the brain scans. The second appears to rely entirely on self-reporting, which on the topic of biases is open to error. I'm sure everyone has taken one of those "what kind of _____ are you?" quizzes and thought to themselves whether they are reporting what they want to be or what they truly are.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I don't know about the correlation between bias and political affiliation. I am, however, quite sure that the test was inaccurate, because it didn't (as far as I'm aware) present the associations in random order.

Shmuli said...

I took the test and scored little to no bias. If I recall correctly, the test asked for a liberal-conservative self ranking and I answered strong conservative. My zip code however is a democratic stronghold, so I effectively was listed as a Democrat. Moreover, if they mentioned only the zip code numbers but not the liberal-conservative numbers, it suggests the former, a more direct measure, did not give such a clear result.

Drew said...

As a "bush supporter" who grew up as a white minority in an inner city neighborhood, I challenge the researchers to expand their study to include biases in other groups.

On the street, I witnessed and experienced more explicit acts of racism towards whites under the auspices of retribution than I witnessed implicit racism towards African-Americans and Latinos.

I understand that this is a specific example in a complex socio-economic system and that there is no excuse for racism of any kind; however, I look forward to the day that the preaching of retribution to white racism transitions to a tone of universal tolerance. Unfortunately, this shift in paradigm needs to begin in the communities most affected.

I also challenge the sheltered suburban liberals to spend a year in the ghetto and experience intolerance first hand. Only then can they proclaim their enlightened view of race dynamics.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amn said...

The implicit association test is well established methodology. The fact that they used results from the internet shouldn't change their data. They are, however, by their way of parsing liberals and conservatives. In this case, they did it by voting districts. People in red counties have different racial attitudes than people in blue counties. Considering all of the other differences that those counties have (rural vs. urban, coasts vs. middle America, etc.) does that suprise anyone?

Mark said...

Republicans don't need to feel defensive about having more negative associations about blacks. Might it not be that that is the more sensible set of beliefs to hold?

Frankly, I accept that I am a racist. I am a racist because having lived for 40-some years in this world and having seen and observed the different races in different situations, from school to college to work, and after working with different races and having friends and acquaintances of different races, it is clear to me that there are real differences between races of people and those differences do make a difference. So I think that anyone who says that race is irrelevant or that it is irrational to consider race is being willfully disingenuous.

And the other commenter made a good point - this study seems designed to yield the conclusion that Republicans, who are overwhelminging white, are racists, while Democrats are not. The question is: did they test blacks to find out if they have disproportionately negative responses to white faces? I would wager that the degree of hostility by blacks towards whites outweighs that of whites towards blacks. In fact I would wager that of all races on earth, whites are probably the least hostile to other races, since white societies are more welcoming to people of other races than, say, asian societies.

AFFA said...

Does anyone have a link to any of the actual studies?

The "self-admitted" results don't surprise me.

If they're measuring "implicit" racism with an IAT or similar test, those are very difficult to set up properly. Asking someone's political affiliation prior to the test could affect the results (if they associate one party with racism). Being in the same room as the researcher or being told the purpose of the test can affect the results, etc.

Disclosure: Conservative and not a real psychologist.

Meade said...

Mark: I'm curious -- what makes you think you are "white?"

Balfegor said...

Well, I'm a Bush supporter (more or less), and I recall taking one of those face-association tests, online of course, and coming out (to my surprise) with much more positive associations for Black faces than for White faces. But I suppose that's just because I'm even more bigoted against all you white people.

All rancor and bigotry aside, though, what I'm most interested in is the "self-admitted" part. That is, I wonder what kind of interaction there is between an acknowledgement that one has certain racist impulses, and one's willingness to go the extra mile, as it were, to suppress them. Clearly, pretty much everyone has these implicit negative images of Blacks, but to the extent you go about thinking you haven't, perhaps you fail to second-guess the snap judgments and assumptions that flow from those implicit biases.

[Haha -- this is another way of spinning the study!]

XWL said...

Any chance that some 'playful' Kossacks took the test more than once on multiple computers?

One time as a 'self identified' Democrat and giving all the 'non-racist' answers.

Second time as a 'self identified' Republican and giving all the 'racist' answers.

Also another dynamic could be at work.

Liberals give the answers they are expected to give, Conservatives answer honestly.

And my (black) father said upon hearing of this study, (I'm paraphrasing) "It's the Democrats who rely on racism to get votes".

dklittl said...

The truthiness of your comments xml astounds me. Instead of actually providing some credible facts to dispute the study, make up some conspiracy and give the patent "Democrats are the real racists" qualifier.

I know that people continually discount information that is a little damaging, but are the results that surprising? I would never say that all Republicans or even a majority are racists or extremely biased against African-Americans, but almost every piece of anecdotal evidence would point to the conclusion that white Republicans are more biased than white Democrats. Attitudes towards civil rights, social welfare (look at the study done on homogenous states and their attitude toward welfare), white flight to the suburbs, and especially African-American voting patterns over the last 40 years, all point to a general conclusion that would support this studies findings.

Hey, I tried being a black Republican for a minute, and lets say the experience was less than gratifying. This doesn't mean white Democrats are some great patron saint of black people, but at the same time nobody has ever mistaken me for the help at a Democrat function.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Mark: you admit you are a racist, but I don't see any evidence of that. You recognize "real differences between races of people and those differences do make a difference," but that doesn't comment on how you treat members of different groups. Sorry, but I don't buy it.

Balfegor said...

I would never say that all Republicans or even a majority are racists or extremely biased against African-Americans, but almost every piece of anecdotal evidence would point to the conclusion that white Republicans are more biased than white Democrats.

This may be so, but note that the report of the study seems to indicate that this is only a matter of degree-- that significant majorities of the population, no matter how you slice it up, are biased against Blacks. I.e. Democrats are heavily biased against Blacks too, just in somewhat lesser degree. I suspect the spread within both groups (Republican and Democrat) is significant as well, such that the populations' range of biases overlap, in the main.

Consequently this:

Attitudes towards civil rights, social welfare (look at the study done on homogenous states and their attitude toward welfare), white flight to the suburbs, and especially African-American voting patterns over the last 40 years, all point to a general conclusion that would support this studies findings.

in which you attempt to link particular policy preferences and voting patterns to bias (I except "white flight," which seems like it is probably linked to bias, although it's not exactly a partisan response) is probably overreaching rather.

More likely, I think, is that those marginal voters who have a strong acknowledged bias against Blacks tend to be Republicans. And this accords, I think, with our natural intuitions -- marginal voters with a strong bias against Blacks would tend to be working-class or poor rural Whites, as well as (to be perfectly honest) recent Asian immigrants, and those Whites, at least, almost certainly trend heavily Republican. Unless they're in tight with the Unions, the Democrats have nothing to offer them, and no desire to embrace them.

If marginal anti-Black voters trend Republican, that will increase the overall anti-Black bias of the Republican population, but to attribute the opinions of that particular voter group to the overall Republican population -- or even to suppose that they meaningfully colour the opinions and policies of the Republican population -- is probably inaccurate, just as to attribute radically anti-human environmentalist or radically redistributionist views to the mainstream of the Democratic party would be inaccurate. Communists and radical environmentalists tend to vote Democrat, and we can paint Democratic policies as the sinister outgrowths of malevolent Communism and radical environmentalism (as some people in fact do). But that's inaccurate and unfair.

Eli Blake said...

OK, here is something quantifiable.

earlier this morning, I wrote a blog posting about race relations. Most liberal bloggers I know visit this topic periodically.

Now, you (if your are a conservative) may not agree with much of what I or other liberals have to say about it, but here's the rub: I visit a lot of conservative or right leaning blogs from time to time, and I have yet to find a posting on them about race relations.

This topic falls to liberals by default, not because we are necessarily right (I'd love to think we are right, but if conservatives have a better idea for healing the racial divide in America, then I'm game,) but because we do acknowlege it and conservatives never discuss race relations unless they are forced to (or perhaps to poke fun at stupid statements like those Mayor Nagin made last week). But any serious postings on race relations, I only find on liberal blogs-- and I do look around the web.

Prove me wrong. Find a conservative blog that has posted about this topic anytime in the last month.

Eli Blake said...

I need to hit, 'preview' a bit more. Lucky no English teachers are on here most of the time.

Balfegor said...

I have yet to find a posting on them about race relations.

I think, in part, this is because for White Conservatives, the great questions of race-relations have already been answered. Is it OK to be prejudiced against minorities? No. Should you promote minorities just because? No. End of question.

On the other hand, I do think that there are interesting aspects of race-relations for those of us who are not white. I'm Korean, for example, and the touchstone of Korean relations with American Blacks is, of course, the 1992 riots, in which the Blacks of central LA attacked Koreans and Korean businesses in the neighbouring Korean ghetto. This is something I think white people don't fully "grok," so to speak, but as an historical incident, it has a powerful grip on the Korean population. Or really, the East Asian population in general, I would venture. In reading Japanese message board comments about Koreans (the thread started out as a discussion of good tourist sites in Korea, and degenerated, in short order, into a debate over whether Koreans were human or just some variety of great ape) what should come up, but the LA Riots! As evidence that Koreans just can't live in peace with other peoples no matter where they go (we just rile people up!)

I think, for someone with more interesting thoughts on the matter than me, there are plenty of interesting posts to be got out of that. But I doubt a white conservative (or white liberal, for that matter) is going to have much meaningful to say, even if he's thought about it at all.

Yevgeny Vilensky said...

Actually, Banaji's methodology is highly suspect and has been for years. I believe that there is a serious debate within the psychology literature on the use of IAT's. I don't have that stuff handy, but I'd imagine something like EbscoHost or PubMed would bring up hundreds of articles offering scathing critiques of IAT's.

She was at Yale until around 2002, and several years before that, she gave a speech to the incoming freshmen at the Freshman Assembly telling them that they're all racists.

She's made a cottage industry out of telling people they're racists, in particular white people. So, I am not shocked that lo and behold, she would "discover" that Republicans (who are clearly a more refined version of evil than just regular whites) are more racist than Democrats.

Eli Blake said...

I think, in part, this is because for White Conservatives, the great questions of race-relations have already been answered. Is it OK to be prejudiced against minorities? No. Should you promote minorities just because? No. End of question.

Now, I can understand that white conservatives may not want to promote minorities, but given that some very real problems and inequities exist, it is incumbent on them to suggest some real solutions to address the same. If not, then at very least, people like President Bush should not be 'puzzled' (his quote after the last election) when they only get around 10% of the black vote.

Benign (or in some cases not benign) neglect only causes the existing problems to fester. You mention the issues involving the LA riots. Yet, in many cities conditions are primed for more of the same. The fact that White conservatives choose to claim that there is no racism, so that makes the previously existing problems disappear, even if their premise were true, would be a faulty line of logic. The problems caused by segregation are still with us and since only Liberals propose to address them, it is safe to say that Liberals and only Liberals have a handle on this issue.

As far as Korean/black relations in LA and elsewhere, that is also a question within the overall category of race relations. To paraphrase a dumb comment made by Ray Nagin, but hopefully make it more intelligently, we live in a 'neapolitan' ice cream country, and we need to all be willing to accept that, including in our neighborhoods.

Balfegor said...

'neapolitan' ice cream country, and we need to all be willing to accept that,

Yes, and not attack our neighbours' businesses just because you're poor and they have slanty eyes. What you're saying there is nothing more than what Republicans say. In fact, with a few exceptions, I think pretty much everyone says that. Saying we need to be willing to accept that isn't a meaningful policy proposal for reducing interracial strife.

Incidentally, the reason Republicans are often puzzled by Blacks refusal to vote for them is that on policy questions (e.g. vouchers, church-state relations, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, etc.) the Black population is about as close to the Republican mainstream as the Democratic mainstream, often closer. They've done about as much as they can to attract Blacks, from the standpoint of policy, without compromising fundamental principles (like non-discrimination). Heck, Bush has even compromised those and it still doesn't work.

Bitch | Lab said...

Shmuli said...

I took the test and scored little to no bias. If I recall correctly, the test asked for a liberal-conservative self ranking and I answered strong conservative. My zip code however is a democratic stronghold, so I effectively was listed as a Democrat. [...]
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This is what the article said about the research (which can be suspect since reporters aren't always that good with scientific research):

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces — evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush. (emphasis added)

You're thinking the level of analysis is the individual. It wasn't. It was the district.

I'm not sure why anyone's surprised. Even if this happened "long ago" you could still be dealing with the legacy of this sort of thinking. Bob Herbert quoted Lee Atwater in the NYT:

You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much
more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more
abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'

knoxgirl said...

Meade said...Mark: I'm curious -- what makes you think you are "white?" LOL

I agree with just about everything balgefor says.

Somebody in this thread said something about being against welfare is racist. I think that the argument could fairly be made that those who think that welfare is necessary for blacks are racist!

(that's a tortured sentence but I can't figure out how to re-write it.)