Category: Political

People Have A Hard-To-Explain Bias Against Experimental Testing of Policies And Interventions, Preferring Just To See Them Implemented

A/B testing vector.

By Jesse Singal

Randomised experiments (also known as A/B testing) are an absolutely critical tool for evaluating everything from online marketing campaigns to new pharmaceutical drugs to school curricula. Rather than making decisions based on ideology, intuition or educated guess-work,  you randomise people to one of two groups and expose one group to intervention A (one version of a social media headline, a new drug, or whatever, depending on the context ), one group to intervention B (a different version of the headline, a different drug etc), and compare outcomes for the two groups.

To anyone who believes in evidence-based decision making, medicine and policy, randomised tests make sense. But as a team led by Michelle N. Meyer at the Center for Translational Bioethics and Health Care Policy at the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, write in PNAS, for some reason A/B testing sometimes elicits moral outrage. As an example, they point to the anger that ensued when Pearson Education “randomized math and computer science students at different schools to receive one of three versions of its instructional software: two versions displayed different encouraging messages as students attempted to solve problems, while a third displayed no messages.” The goal had been to test objectively whether the encouraging messages would, well, encourage students to do more problems, yet for this, the company received much criticism, including accusations that they’d treated students like guinea pigs, and failed to obtain their consent.

Continue reading “People Have A Hard-To-Explain Bias Against Experimental Testing of Policies And Interventions, Preferring Just To See Them Implemented”

People Who View Their Britishness or Englishness As “Causally Central” To Their Self-Concept Are More Likely to Have Voted For Brexit, Study Finds

GettyImages-1133509466.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Political partisanship can be a major driving force behind many thoughts and behaviours, affecting obvious things like who to vote for, but also more tangential outcomes, such as how you interpret scientific evidence (liberals and conservatives alike tend to see evidence as more credible when it supports their ideological viewpoint).

But the situation is more complicated than that, as people’s actions are not always consistent with their political identity. What determines why about 8 per cent of Republicans voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election, for example, rather than Donald Trump?

According to a paper published recently in Cognition, the answer may lie in how central an individual’s political affiliation is in the tangled web of features that make up their self-concept. A person’s identity contains a range of features, from characteristics like gender and age to political beliefs and moral principles. One feature can be caused by another: for example, someone might believe that they are an honest person as a direct result of the fact that they are also Christian. Previous research has suggested that the more “causally central” a feature is – that is, the more of these kinds of links that it has – the more fundamental it is to a person’s identity. 

Stephanie Chen at London Business School and Oleg Urminsky at the University of Chicago wondered whether a person may be more likely to act in ways consistent with their political beliefs if they see their political identity as “causally central” to their self-concept, and they investigated this in an American and then a British context.

Continue reading “People Who View Their Britishness or Englishness As “Causally Central” To Their Self-Concept Are More Likely to Have Voted For Brexit, Study Finds”

Has The Liberal Bias In Psychology Contributed To The Replication Crisis?

GettyImages-951722782.jpgBy Jesse Singal

There’s no simple explanation for why psychology has been hit so hard by the replication crisis – it’s the result of a complicated mix of professional incentives, questionable research practices, and other factors, including the sheer popularity of the sorts of sexy, counterintuitive findings that make for great TED Talk fodder.

But that might not be the entire story. Some have also posited a more sociological explanation: political bias. After all, psychology is overwhelmingly liberal. Estimates vary and depend on the methodology used to generate them, but among professional psychologists the ratio of liberals to conservatives is something like 14:1. A new PsyArXiv preprint first-authored by Diego Reinero at New York University – and involving an “adversarial collaboration” in which “ two sets of authors were simultaneously testing the same question with different theoretical commitments” – has looked for evidence to support this explanation, and found that while liberal bias per se is not associated with research replicability, highly politically biased findings of either slant (liberal or conservative) are less robust.  

Continue reading “Has The Liberal Bias In Psychology Contributed To The Replication Crisis?”

People Who Are Most Fearful Of Genetically Modified Foods Think They Know The Most About Them, But Actually Know The Least

Screenshot 2019-02-07 at 17.04.52.png
via Fernbach et al, 2019

By Jesse Singal

There are few subjects where a larger gap exists between public opinion and expert opinion than people’s views on foods, like corn or wheat, that have been genetically manipulated to, for example, increase crop yields or bolster pest-resistance. Experts generally view so-called GM foods as totally safe to consume, while the public is suspicious of them — and this divide is massive. One Pew Research Center survey found that just 37 per cent of the American public believed GM foods are safe to eat, compared with 88 per cent of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (public attitudes are similarly negative in the UK, with a 2014 poll finding that 40 per cent of adults felt the government should not promote GM foods, compared with 22 per cent in favour, and the rest unsure).

Unlike some subjects where this divide between layperson and expert opinion is heavily mediated by politics, such as climate change caused by human activity — in the U.S. and elsewhere, conservatives are far less likely to believe in it than are liberals and climate scientists — the GM-food divide doesn’t really have a political dimension: Liberals, centrists, and conservatives are all about equally likely to have what are, from the point of view of experts, unfounded fears about the safety of GM foods.

To better understand the source of these fears, a team led by Philip M. Fernbach, a professor at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, surveyed nationally representative samples in America, Germany and France, and other online participants, about their views on both GM foods and climate change, tested their knowledge on these subjects by asking them to answer factual questions, and also asked them to gauge their perceived level of knowledge on those subjects.

The headline finding from the study, published as a letter in Nature Human Behaviour, is neatly summed up by its title: “Extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least but think they know the most.” That is, on average, the more vehemently a given respondent said they were opposed to GM foods, the fewer questions about the subject they answered accurately, and the higher they rated their own knowledge.

Continue reading “People Who Are Most Fearful Of Genetically Modified Foods Think They Know The Most About Them, But Actually Know The Least”

Study Compares Trump’s Personality With Other Populist Leaders And Finds He Is An “Outlier Among The Outliers”

Screenshot 2019-01-31 at 08.35.10.png
Via Nai et al, 2019

By Christian Jarrett

Talk of personality in politics is often dismissed as idle gossip, but politicians’ personalities inform their policy choices, shape their campaigning style and predict their chances of electoral success.

In fact, there has been much speculation that personality may be key to understanding perhaps the biggest electoral shock ever – Donald Trump’s triumph in the 2016 US Presidential election. Many commentators have highlighted Trump’s unusually brash, extraverted and narcissistic personality and proposed that it may partly explain his appeal among some voters. However, before now, there has been little systematic evidence to support this claim.

A new open-access paper in Presidential Studies Quarterly addressed this lack of evidence, surveying  875 international experts about the personality traits of 103 political leaders, including Trump and 20 other populists, who took part in 47 elections in 40 countries around the world between 2015 and 2016. Alessandro Nai and his colleagues found that Trump’s traits were rated at the extremes even in comparison to other populist leaders, suggesting a “truly unique and off-the-charts public persona”.

Continue reading “Study Compares Trump’s Personality With Other Populist Leaders And Finds He Is An “Outlier Among The Outliers””

Blinded By Ideology: People Find It Difficult To Think Logically About Arguments That Contradict Their Politics

By Jesse Singal

A heated political story in the United States last weekend perfectly illustrates how tribal politics can supercharge a human weakness that psychologists have been studying for some time – our deep-seated tendency to accept evidence that supports our existing beliefs, and to ignore evidence that contradicts them.

It involved a conflict near the Lincoln Memorial featuring a handful of Black Israelites (a radical black nationalist group), a large group of mostly White American high-schoolers, some in Donald Trump hats, who were in town for an anti-abortion march, and a small group of Native American protesters, one of whom found himself in the midst of the high-schoolers.

Following the initial reports of what happened, and spurred along by a short video and dramatic photos, suggesting that the teens had encircled and confronted the Native American protester in an apparent act of intimidation, there was widespread condemnation of the teenagers, calls for them to be suspended or expelled from school, doxxed, and so on. But what’s telling is that when new details emerged, most notably the emergence of a longer video showing it was the protester who had waded into the sea of teens (because, he said later, he wanted to break up the conflict between them and the Black Israelites), and which complicated other aspects of the narrative as well, still many commentators continued to interpret events in line with their own political leanings. In fact the cacophonous online argument about what happened only seemed to explode in volume when the longer video was released — more information didn’t resolve things. At all.

As the Georgetown University professor Jonathan Ladd put it so well on Twitter: “Regarding the incident at the Lincoln Memorial,” he wrote, “it’s fascinating to see motivated reasoning play out in real time over a 24 hr period … Despite lots of video, all interpretations now match people’s partisanship.”

These politically motivated cognitive gymnastics are the subject of an important new paper lead-authored by Anup Gampa and Sean P. Wojcik that’s just been made available as a preprint (and due to be published in Social Psychological and Personality Science). Specifically, Gampa and Wojcik, working with a team that includes the open-science advocate Brian Nosek, decided to test the effects of politically motivated reasoning using logical syllogisms, a type of logical argument in which premises are assumed to be true, and arguments proceed from there.

Continue reading “Blinded By Ideology: People Find It Difficult To Think Logically About Arguments That Contradict Their Politics”

Do social psychologists have an ideological aversion to evolutionary psychology?

GettyImages-171584273.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

A new survey of beliefs held by social psychologists (335 mostly US-based members of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology) has confirmed previous reports that the field is overwhelmingly populated by researchers of a left-wing, liberal bent. What’s more, David Buss and William von Hippel – the evolutionary social psychologists who conducted and analysed the survey – say their findings, published open-access in Archives of Scientific Psychology, suggest that some social psychologists may be opposed, for ideological reasons, to insights rooted in evolutionary psychology.

Buss and von Hippel add that compounding matters is an irony – the desire of some researchers to signal their ideological stance and commitment to others who share their political views, which is a manifestation of the evolved human adaptation to form coalitions. “Part of this virtue signalling entails rejecting a caricature of evolutionary psychology that no scientist actually holds,” they write.

Continue reading “Do social psychologists have an ideological aversion to evolutionary psychology?”

Why the polls keep getting it so wrong; and a solution – ask people who their friends and family are voting for

GettyImages-1057350054.jpgBy guest blogger Juliet Hodges

In 2016, the unexpected outcome of two votes shook the world: the UK voting to leave the European Union, and the US electing President Donald Trump. Even the pollsters got it wrong – for example, based on the latest polling data, the New York Times gave Clinton an 85 per cent chance of winning just the day before the election.

Accurate polling is important for a number of reasons. Poll results influence politicians’ campaign strategies and fundraising efforts; affect market prices and business forecasts; and they can impact voters’ perceptions and even turnout. So, when the polls are wide of the mark – as they were so badly in 2016 – many outcomes are being sent astray by misleading information. 

But polling is not as simple as just asking a lot of people who they intend to vote for. Polls are often biased by who is motivated enough to respond, and people can be overly-optimistic about the likelihood they will actually vote.

Another factor, outlined by Andy Brownback and Aaron Novotny of the University of Arkansas in their recent paper in the Journal of Experimental and Behavioural Economics, is people feeling the need to conceal their true voting intentions. 

Continue reading “Why the polls keep getting it so wrong; and a solution – ask people who their friends and family are voting for”

Strangers are more likely to come to your help in a racially diverse neighbourhood

GettyImages-875961534.jpgBy Alex Fradera

The “Big Society” initiative – launched at the turn of this decade by the incoming British government – was a call for politics to recognise the importance of community and social solidarity. It has since fizzled out, and for a while communitarianism fell out of the political conversation, but it has returned post-Brexit, sometimes with a nationalist or even nativist flavour. The US political scientist Robert Putnam’s research is sometimes recruited into these arguments, as his data suggests that racially and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods have lower levels of trust and social capital, which would seem an obstacle to community-building. But an international team led by Jared Nai at Singapore Management University has published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that suggests that diverse neighbourhoods are in fact more likely to generate prosocial helpful behaviours.

Continue reading “Strangers are more likely to come to your help in a racially diverse neighbourhood”

Against expectations, people with more egalitarian political views were more open to the idea that intelligence is fixed

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 10.03.41.png
People lower on “social dominance orientation” were more influenced by the argument that intelligence is a fixed trait (from Hoyt et al 2018)

By Alex Fradera

A growth mindset – believing your capabilities can grow over time – can help us set self-improvement goals, consider mistakes as a step towards mastery, and remain upbeat when facing tribulation. Psychologists are excited by the ways we can help develop such mindsets, particularly towards creativity and intelligence, but some studies have found the impact less impressive than earlier research had suggested. Now researchers are hungry to understand the individual characteristics that might prevent these interventions making an impact on some people.

New research in the British Journal of Social Psychology has investigated one possible candidate – political ideology, specifically a perspective known as “social dominance orientation”. If you are invested in preserving the status quo, perhaps that encourages you to see social relations as inevitable, as “just the way things are” – an essentialist, fixed view of the world that seems to carry over to how you view human capability.

Continue reading “Against expectations, people with more egalitarian political views were more open to the idea that intelligence is fixed”