1. Study suggests disorders of the voice can affect a politician’s success

    December 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Acoustical Society of America press release:

    The acoustics of a political speech delivery are known to be a powerful influencer of voter preferences, perhaps giving some credence to the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Vocal disorders change the qualities of a person’s speech, and voice scientists Rosario Signorello and Didier Demolin at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris have found that this alters politicians’ perceived charisma and listeners’ voting preferences.

    The researchers examined two cases of politicians with vocal disorders: Umberto Bossi, former leader of the Italian Lega Nord party, whose vocal cords were partially paralyzed by a stroke, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil, whose larynx has disturbed functionality due to throat cancer. Signorello will present the findings at the 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, being held Dec. 4-8, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

    In both vocal pathologies, the vocal range was narrowed and pitch lowered. The disordered voices were characterized by hoarseness, a slower speech rate and a restriction in the ability to modulate pitch. “We use pitch manipulation to be ironic and sarcastic, to change the meaning of a sentence,” said Signorello, emphasizing the limited speech capabilities of the politicians after their pathology.

    “Before the stroke, people perceived Bossi as positive, enthusiastic, a very charming speaker, and when listening to his post-stroke voice, everything changed,” said Signorello. “After the stroke, he had a flat pitch contour, a lack of modulation, and this was perceived as a wise and competent charisma.”

    Multiple charismatic adjectives were assessed on a Likert scale of agreement by a French audience. Using an audience who didn’t understand the languages of the vocal stimuli was important. “[W]henever you listen to a voice you assess the acoustics, but also what they say, and we didn’t want the verbal, semantic content to influence our results,” said Signorello.

    The French listeners were asked which vocal stimuli they would vote for and, perhaps surprisingly, there was a preference for the leaders’ post-disorder voices. “French people didn’t want to vote for someone who was strong and authoritarian, or perceived as a younger version of the leader,” said Signorello. However, this was a variable trend. “In each example the vocal patterns are so diverse you never find the same answers; all trigger different emotional states and convey different personality traits.”

    Emphasizing that there is no “best” voice, Signorello said, “Charisma is a social phenomenon, difficult to assess because it is subject to social trends. It’s impossible to give a recipe of what is more or less charismatic — it’s like fashion, it changes drastically with time.”

    The researchers found it intriguing that the leadership charismas identified from post-vocal disorder vocal stimuli were characterized by personality traits that are also used to describe an older person, for example, as wise. “We are interested in how age and the perception of age from voice influences the social status of a speaker in a given society,” said Signorello, who plans to investigate this further.

    He plans to extend the study to vocal disorders of female politicians, aiming to use the findings to improve and focus speech rehabilitation of public speakers, from teachers, to CEOs and politicians. He is also interested in applying these findings to smart device voice recognition technology.

  2. Reliance on ‘gut feelings’ linked to belief in fake news

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    People who tend to trust their intuition or to believe that the facts they hear are politically biased are more likely to stand behind inaccurate beliefs, a new study suggests.

    And those who rely on concrete evidence to form their beliefs are less likely to have misperceptions about high-profile scientific and political issues, said Kelly Garrett, the lead researcher and a professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

    “Scientific and political misperceptions are dangerously common in the U.S. today. The willingness of large minorities of Americans to embrace falsehoods and conspiracy theories poses a threat to society’s ability to make well-informed decisions about pressing matters,” Garrett said.

    “A lot of attention is paid to our political motivations, and while political bias is a reality, we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that people have other kinds of biases too.”

    Garrett and co-author Brian Weeks of the University of Michigan published the study in the journal PLOS ONE. They examined data from three nationally representative surveys that included anywhere from 500 to almost 1,000 participants. Their aim was to better understand how people form their beliefs and how that might contribute to their willingness to accept ideas with little or no evidence to support them.

    They looked at how participants responded to 12 questions including “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not,” “Evidence is more important than whether something feels true” and “Facts are dictated by those in power.”

    They used responses to these questions to assess people’s faith in intuition, their need for evidence, and their belief that “truth” is political.

    “These are characteristics that we expected would be important above and beyond the role of partisanship,” Garrett said. “We’re tapping into something about people’s understanding of the world, something about how they think about what they know, how they know it and what is true.”

    The researchers compared how participants’ approach to deciding what is true was related to their beliefs about hot-button topics. The study included questions about the debunked link between vaccines and autism and the science-based connection between human activity and climate change.

    Garrett and Weeks found that people who believe that truth is shaped by politics and power are more likely to embrace falsehoods. On the other hand, those who rely on evidence were less likely to believe those falsehoods.

    The researchers also evaluated survey respondents’ tendency to agree with seven well-known conspiracy theories. More than 45 percent said they didn’t buy that John F. Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald alone; 33 percent agreed that the U.S. government was behind the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and 32 percent said Princess Diana’s death was orchestrated by the British royal family.

    Previous research has shown connections between belief in conspiracy theories and education level, religious fundamentalism and party affiliation, Garrett said.

    In this study, a belief that truth is political was the strongest predictor of whether someone would buy into conspiracy theories. Garrett also found that those who rely on intuition to assess the truth had a stronger tendency to endorse conspiracies.

    “While trusting your gut may be beneficial in some situations, it turns out that putting faith in intuition over evidence leaves us susceptible to misinformation,” said Weeks, who worked on the research as an Ohio State graduate student.

    Garrett said it’s important to acknowledge that our beliefs aren’t based solely upon political predispositions.

    “Misperceptions don’t always arise because people are blinded by what their party or favorite news outlet is telling them,” he said.

    The good news, as Garrett sees it? “Making an effort to base your beliefs on evidence is an easy way to help avoid being misled.”

    It’s also possible to influence others in a positive direction, he said, by sharing evidence in a calm, respectful manner when faced with misperceptions. If a Facebook friend, for instance, posts an inaccurate item, a link to a trusted news source or document can be helpful, Garrett said.

    “People sometimes say that it’s too hard to know what’s true anymore. That’s just not true. These results suggest that if you pay attention to evidence you’re less likely to hold beliefs that aren’t correct,” he said.

    “This isn’t a panacea — there will always be people who believe conspiracies and unsubstantiated claims — but it can make a difference.”

  3. Voter behavior influenced by hot weather

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Political rebellions and riots have been associated with warmer weather, but until now, there has been little research on its potential influence on peaceful and democratic political behavior. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, has uncovered a connection between changes in temperature and voting behavior in the United States of America.

    “We found that increases in state-level temperatures from one election to another are related to increases in state-level voter turnout, and increases in votes for the incumbent party,” says Jasper Van Assche, who completed this research in the Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology at Ghent University, Belgium.

    “Voter behavior data from each state was collected for all the U.S. presidential elections from 1960 to 2016 and compared to the difference between maximum temperature on voting day and that of the previous election day,” explains Van Assche. “We found that for every 10C increase in temperature, voter turnout increased by 1.4%.”

    The study also revealed that a rise in temperature motivated some citizens to cast their vote for the smaller political parties (Greens, Libertarians, Independents). Counteracting this, was the finding that warmer weather was a stronger motivator for some citizens to vote for the government currently in power.

    “Although these effects are rather small compared to the ‘usual suspects’ that predict voting, they might play a role in close races,” says Van Assche.

    The study details one such case; the 2000 presidential election. Applying the findings of the study, Van Assche and his co-authors suggests a mere 10C (1.8oF) increase in temperature may have made Al Gore the 43rd U.S. President instead of George W. Bush, as Gore would have won in Florida.

    Van Assche is keen to explain that his results were not affected by other factors that can influence voter behavior.

    “Importantly, the relationship between voter behavior and turnout remained true even when we took into account the ‘usual suspects’ that can have an effect — the president being available for reappointment, the incumbent president being elected or not (Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford were Vice Presidents), presidential approval ratings, whether the president’s party had a majority in Congress during the two last years, and change in state gross domestic product (GDP), amongst others.”

    The study analyzed changes in temperature (an increase or decrease in temperature on voting day, when compared to the previous election day), rather than absolute temperature because of the latter’s potential effects on the results. An absolute temperature of 30oC would be a normal temperature for California, but hot in Alaska. Moreover, absolute temperature can be linked to other factors that may affect voting behavior. For example, poverty is generally higher in countries with hotter climates.

    It is hoped that future studies will delve deeper and increase our knowledge of what can influence voter behavior.

    “There is a large amount of research on voter behavior, but little attention has been paid to the seemingly illogical factors that can influence the way people vote. Future studies could expand our understanding by tapping into smaller levels of analyses (e.g., cities or counties) or by including emotions (such as anger) which might explain some of the effects,” concludes Van Assche.

  4. Study suggests social connections impact voter turnout, decisions

    July 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida State University press release:

    When it comes to voter turnout and election outcomes, it’s not just what you know, but perhaps who you know that makes the difference, according to a new study led by a Florida State University researcher.

    People more closely connected to electoral candidates in their social network vote at higher rates, according to Matthew Pietryka, an assistant professor of political science. The term “social network” refers to the wide collection of family, friends and acquaintances that an individual has, as well as a social connection’s family, friends and acquaintances.

    In addition to the higher participation rate, the study found that the greater the connection to candidates from a particular party, the more likely it is a voter will support that party and oppose the other.

    Pietryka’s findings were published in the American Political Science Review.

    “Research on the social determinants of voting has really lagged behind research on the personal determinants of voting,” Pietryka said. “The big problem is that many studies do a poor job measuring the social context which individuals are embedded. We know very little about how your friends and your family influence your views.”

    For decades, political scientists have attempted to find the key identifiers in predicting how and why people vote. Researchers have long been aware of how certain key factors, such as race, class, education and psychological disposition have a strong degree of influence on electoral preferences.

    These identifiers are key in part because they are easy to measure with surveys. Surveys focus on respondents’ attributes, but obscure the social context in which they reside. Political scientists have mostly followed suit — studying how things that are easy to measure in surveys influence voting. Thus, the influence of social networks on voting has received little attention.

    This study, however, controlled for factors like race and education while simultaneously putting them into a proper social context.

    Researchers used results from an 1859 election in Alexandria, Va., and an 1874 election from Newport, Ky., to conduct the study. These 19th-century electoral results were gathered by Don DeBats, a historian from Flinders University in Australia who collaborated with Pietryka. DeBats spent the better part of the past two decades compiling information on the citizens of each city and their individual social network.

    For every citizen eligible to vote, researchers measured their proximity to all the candidates.

    “For instance, you might be the neighbor of someone who ran for city council, or you might go to church with someone who ran for city council,” Pietryka said. “What we were doing was looking to see what individuals shared some social connection with candidates. We played something like ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,’ where we said if you are neighbors with someone who works with someone who ran for city council, you’re two degrees removed.”

    Because the voting records from Alexandria and Newport were both intact and very detailed, Pietryka said, the results from the 19th century were important in reaching his conclusion.

    “We could build up a much more detailed social network of these people living in the 19th century than we could with data on people living today,” he said.

    Pietryka also used results from a 2010 election in Williamsburg, Va., where a student from the College of William & Mary ran for city council. Data came from a survey given to students identifying their voting preferences, as well as their friends at the university.

    Despite a more than 150-year difference between the voting time frames, the researchers said their findings held constant regardless of the time period and electoral composition.

    Pietryka plans to expand the scope of his research in the future using a concept known as “friends and neighbors voting,” which examines the impact of geographic proximity on voting. Pietryka said he wants to explore how physical and social distance intertwine with ethnicity and class to shape people’s political participation.

  5. Study suggests emphasizing individual solutions to big issues can reduce support for government efforts

    June 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University press release:

    Following the shutdown of the Fukushima power plant, which endured one of the worst nuclear accidents in history in 2011 due to a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, Japan began a national initiative that encouraged saving electricity. This created an opportunity for Seth Werfel, a graduate student in political science at Stanford University, to investigate how recognition of individual efforts to improve energy usage might affect support for government-based solutions.

    He found that the more people said they curbed energy use on their own, the less they supported a tax increase on carbon emissions.

    “At first, I thought this result was counterintuitive because you’d expect people who took those actions to support government action as well,” said Werfel, whose work was published in Nature Climate Change. “But it is intuitive, just not obvious. When the surveys made people feel like they’d done enough, they said that the government shouldn’t make them do more.”

    Although his study was focused on an environmental issue, Werfel said other research suggests this reaction could be highly pervasive, affecting many other issues. He also found that the loss of support for government actions among the people who reported their personal efforts occurred regardless of political ideology.

    How surveys changed support

    Taking advantage of the energy-saving initiative, Werfel surveyed about 12,000 people in Japan. All surveys included a question about the extent to which people supported a government tax increase on carbon emissions. Half of the surveys contained a checklist that respondents used to indicate energy-saving actions they performed. On average, people who received the checklist surveys were about 13 percent less likely to support the government tax than people who did not receive a checklist.

    People who performed the checklist tasks also indicated on the accompanying survey that they felt that individual actions were more important than those of the government for achieving energy sustainability, and that conserving energy and protecting the environment shouldn’t be a top national priority.

    Werfel then sent checklist surveys to about 200 respondents who had been in non-checklist groups. Compared to how they responded in the initial, non-checklist survey, the respondents who checked the most boxes in the list of energy-saving actions in this second survey exhibited the greatest increase in their opposition to government actions. Werfel said this seems to indicate that people who perform more of these types of actions are more likely to see individual contributions as sufficient progress toward energy-saving goals.

    Additional surveys showed that a checklist containing only one very easy individual action did not affect people’s support of the carbon tax. However, people were 15 percent less likely to support the tax if they checked a box stating that they thought recycling was important — an effect that was largest among people who said they cared most about the environment. Werfel stressed that this, as with all of these results, should lead people to not assume anything about the behavior of any one person.

    “It would be way too strong to say these findings apply to someone who spends their life being environmentally conscious and advocating for government support of pro-environment initiatives,” he said.

    Werfel also tested whether making people feel morally good about themselves made them more likely to oppose government action, but the results of that survey were inconclusive.

    Striking a balance between pride and complacency

    Werfel said he believes this phenomenon likely impacts issues beyond environmentalism, such as disease prevention, economic inequality and homelessness, a hypothesis he is currently investigating. Given the evidence so far, Werfel cautions that we should be more aware about the potential downsides of celebrating every individual and private sector contribution we see as benefitting the greater good.

    “Sometimes there’s a danger to thinking you’ve done enough,” said Werfel. “We spend a lot of time encouraging people to do these things at home — to care about them and announce that they’ve done them — and there could be some backfire effect.”

  6. Behavioral ‘nudges’ offer a cost-effective policy tool

    June 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Governments around the world have increasingly turned to behavioral science to help address various policy problems — new research shows that some of the best-known strategies derived from behavioral science, commonly referred to as ‘nudges,’ may be extremely cost effective. The new study, which examined the cost-effectiveness of nudges and typical intervention strategies like financial incentives side-by-side, found that nudges often yield particularly high returns at a low cost when it comes to boosting retirement savings, college enrollment, energy conservation, and vaccination rates.

    The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “The changes in behavior produced by nudges tend be quite cost effective relative to those produced by traditional policy tools — so there is a big opportunity to use nudging more widely in government in conjunction with traditional policy tools,” says Professor Katherine L. Milkman of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the authors of the new study.

    “Our findings show that it’s important to calculate and report the cost effectiveness of available policy tools, and not simply the impact of an intervention without an adjustment for cost,” adds study co-author Professor John Beshears of Harvard Business School. “This will facilitate wiser decisions by governments and other organizations regarding which policy tools to use under various circumstances.”

    Nudges — which are now being tested and implemented by government agencies in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States — diverge from traditional policy tools in that they encourage certain behaviors without restricting an individual’s options or exacting financial penalties.

    When organizations automatically enroll employees in their company’s retirement savings program but allow them to opt out, for example, they are using a nudge that takes advantage of the fact that people tend to accept the default while still protecting employees’ freedom to choose whether to participate in the program.

    Although many nudges have been proven to increase individuals’ access to various services and programs, they may not produce large shifts in overall behavior. As such, they may be overlooked as useful policy tools despite their relatively low cost.

    With this in mind, a research team including academics and practitioners inside and outside of government examined existing studies to evaluate the relative cost effectiveness of nudges and other policy interventions.

    Looking at the 2015 reports from the SBST and the UK Behavioural Insights Team, the researchers developed a list of relevant policy areas and identified one behavior as the outcome of interest within each area. They then searched leading academic journals in science, economics, psychology, and medicine for original research published from 2000 to mid-2015 that directly examined interventions targeting these outcomes.

    The team compared the effectiveness of nudge-type strategies with more standard policy interventions, calculating the ratio between an intervention’s causal effect and its implementation cost.

    The results showed a pattern: In each of the domains that the researchers examined, nudges were highly cost effective, often more so than the traditional policy interventions.

    In the case of retirement savings, for example, a nudge that prompted new employees to indicate their preferred contribution rate to a workplace retirement-savings plan yielded a $100 increase in employee contributions per $1 spent on implementing the program; the next most cost-effective strategy, offering monetary incentives for employees who attended a benefits fair, yielded only a $14.58 increase in employee contributions per $1 spent on the program.

    Similarly, a nudge-based mailing that prompted employees to write down when and how they planned on getting their flu shot led to about 13 additional people getting vaccinated per $100 spent on the mailing; by contrast, an education campaign on the benefits of the flu vaccine led to only about 9 additional employees at a health care facility getting vaccinated per every $100 spent on the campaign.

    “We had a hunch that nudging, and especially digital nudging, would be very cost effective, but I was truly surprised to see that the cost effectiveness of nudging is often 100, and even 1,000, times greater than more traditional interventions,” says co-author Shlomo Benartzi, a professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This has huge implications for governments and businesses alike.”

    The researchers acknowledge that their analyses do not offer an exhaustive review of the comparative effectiveness of nudges and traditional policy tools. And there are many cases in which traditional tools — such as prohibitions and mandates — are essential for achieving specific policy objectives, and nudges might not be of value.

    But the new findings clearly show that nudge-type strategies based in behavioral science do offer a useful, low-cost approach to promoting behaviors tied to a variety of important outcomes. Unlike traditional interventions that are designed to influence the cost-benefit calculations that people make, nudges harness decision-making processes that operate automatically. Thus, nudges may be especially useful in guiding behavior when people are making decisions in less than ideal circumstances, such as when they are busy, tired, or otherwise not able to fully engage with the choices available to them.

    The findings also underscore how critical sharing data and knowledge about the effectiveness of various interventions will be to coordinated policy efforts among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

    “Tracking failures is as important for knowledge creation as tracking successes,” the researchers conclude.

  7. Study suggests ideological information bubbles conquer financial incentives

    April 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Chicago press release:

    A new report from social psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Winnipeg suggests people on both sides of the political aisle are similarly motivated to dismiss monetary enticements in order to distance themselves from hearing or reading opposing ideals and information.

    The research, published online by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, details the findings from five studies involving liberals and conservatives who were presented with statements on issues such as same-sex marriage, U.S. and Canada elections, marijuana, climate change, guns and abortion.

    Approximately two-thirds of respondents declined a chance to win extra money in order to avoid reading statements that didn’t support their position, say report co-authors Linda Skitka, UIC professor of psychology, and Matt Motyl, UIC assistant professor of psychology.

    The UIC researchers and Jeremy A. Frimer, a corresponding author from the University of Winnipeg, indicate the divide goes beyond political topics.

    Respondents also had a “greater desire to hear from like- versus unlike-minded others on questions such as preferred beverages (Coke vs. Pepsi), seasons (spring vs. autumn), airplane seats (aisle vs. window), and sports leagues (NFL vs. NBA),” they wrote.

    The aversion to hearing or learning about the views of their ideological opponents is not a product of people already being or feeling knowledgeable, or attributable to election fatigue in the case of political issues, according to the researchers.

    “Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance,” such that would require effort or cause frustration, and “undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views” that would harm relationships, they reported.

    The researchers note the drawback of liberals and conservatives retreating to ideological information bubbles.

    “What could ultimately be a contest of ideas is being replaced by two, non-interacting monopolies,” they said.

  8. For a modest personality trait, ‘intellectual humility’ packs a punch

    April 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Intellectual humility” has been something of a wallflower among personality traits, receiving far less scholarly attention than such brash qualities as egotism or hostility. Yet this little-studied characteristic may influence people’s decision-making abilities in politics, health and other arenas, says new research from Duke University.

    In a time of high partisanship, intellectual humility — an awareness that one’s beliefs may be wrong — is nonpartisan. Researchers measured levels of the trait, and found essentially no difference between liberals and conservatives or between religious and nonreligious people.

    “There are stereotypes about conservatives and religiously conservative people being less intellectually humble about their beliefs,” said lead author Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “We didn’t find a shred of evidence to support that.”

    As defined by the authors, intellectual humility is the opposite of intellectual arrogance or conceit. In common parlance, it resembles open-mindedness. Intellectually humble people can have strong beliefs, but recognize their fallibility and are willing to be proven wrong on matters large and small, Leary said.

    The researchers, whose work is featured in the March 15 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, conducted four separate studies to measure the trait and learn more about how it functions. In one study, participants read essays arguing for and against religion, and were then asked about each author’s personality. After reading an essay with which they disagreed, intellectually arrogant people gave the writer low scores in morality, honesty, competence and warmth. By contrast, intellectually humble people were less likely to judge a writer’s character based on his or her views.

    People who displayed intellectual humility also did a better job evaluating the quality of evidence — even in mundane matters. For instance, when presented with arguments about the benefits of flossing, intellectually humble people correctly distinguished strong, fact-based arguments from weak ones.

    The characteristic also affected people’s views on politicians who “flip-flop.” Intellectually humble Republicans were more likely than other Republicans to say that they would vote for a politician whose position on an issue changed over time, due to new evidence. They were also less likely to criticize that politician for “flip-flopping.” There was less variability among Democrats: Democrats, whether intellectually arrogant or humble, were generally less likely to criticize a politician for changing his mind.

    Leary said intellectual humility bears further examination.

    “If you think about what’s been wrong in Washington for a long time, it’s a whole lot of people who are very intellectually arrogant about the positions they have, on both sides of the aisle,” Leary said. “But even in interpersonal relationships, the minor squabbles we have with our friends, lovers and coworkers are often about relatively trivial things where we are convinced that our view of the world is correct and their view is wrong.”

    The quality has potential benefits in the business world, too, he said.

    “If you’re sitting around a table at a meeting and the boss is very low in intellectual humility, he or she isn’t going to listen to other people’s suggestions,” Leary said. “Yet we know that good leadership requires broadness of perspective and taking as many perspectives into account as possible.”

    Leary and his co-authors suggest that intellectual humility is a quality that could be encouraged and taught. And some of their colleagues hope to do just that. Leary’s team worked in collaboration with other psychologists and philosophers to refine their studies. One of those philosophers helped launch a charter school in California, the Intellectual Virtues Academy of Long Beach, aimed at promoting qualities such as intellectual humility.

    Leary applauds the effort.

    “Not being afraid of being wrong — that’s a value, and I think it is a value we could promote,” he said. “I think if everyone was a bit more intellectually humble we’d all get along better, we’d be less frustrated with each other.”

  9. Competence matters more than gender for women running for office

    November 4, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Iowa State University media release:

    menopause womanThe nomination of the first woman presidential candidate by a major party has shattered some gender barriers, while at the same time reinforced certain stereotypes and double standards that still exist for women.

    Tessa Ditonto, an assistant professor of political science at Iowa State University, studies how gender and political psychology influence voter behavior. Ditonto says the 2016 election has elevated gender, sexism and the role of women in politics to the forefront of national conversation.

    “This election will test whether our expectations about presidential masculinity — strength, ‘toughness’ and military might — affect the way we evaluate the first female major party nominee,” Ditonto said. “It will also show how voters’ impressions of Hillary Clinton, a major presence in American politics for decades, were influenced by the gendered, and often blatantly sexist, media coverage and comments from her opponent’s campaign.”

    Ditonto’s new research, which examines gender and candidate competence — based on information and looks — provides some insight as to how gender influences voter behavior. The results, published in the journal Political Behavior, are encouraging and somewhat troubling, Ditonto said. She found that gender plays a significant role in how much voters care about a candidate’s perceived competence.

    The good news is women candidates, portrayed as competent in the study, did just as well as men who were viewed as competent. However, voters had different standards when judging incompetence. Ditonto says they were more forgiving of men than women who appeared incompetent.

    To test voter behavior, Ditonto created a mock election scenario. In two separate experiments, study participants were asked to participate in a simulated campaign for a presidential election, answer questions about the candidates they saw and cast a vote for their candidate of choice. The first experiment consisted of both a primary and general election. Ditonto says the combined results suggest that for women candidates who are subject to stereotypes about competence, the actual information available about them matters a great deal.

    It’s heartening that gender-based stereotypes related to competence are not insurmountable for female candidates. It seems that voters are allowing substantive information to influence their ultimate evaluations and vote choice,” Ditonto said. “Perhaps we should be more surprised that male candidates who are portrayed as politically incompetent are still so well liked and supported.”

    Of the 449 study participants in the first experiment, 58 percent were female. The majority were white and identified as Democrats.

    Voters don’t always judge a book by its cover

    Voters have access to considerably more information about candidates running for national, state and local office than ever before. Still, prior research has shown that voters judge a candidate in other ways, including looks. Ditonto’s work found the opposite to be true. A candidate’s facial features didn’t matter as much when gender and substantive information were taken into consideration, she said.

    In her second study, Ditonto used the computer program, FaceGen, to determine how voters respond to facial features. She created multiple male and female candidates, and varied aspects of physical appearance — eye spacing, jaw width and maturity — typically associated with competence. The 377 participants in this study were evenly split by gender. The majority were white and identified as Democrats. Ditonto says most seemed unaffected by whether or not the candidate looked competent or incompetent.

    Voters did their homework based on the information provided. However, if the information portrayed a woman as incompetent, they were less likely to support her campaign, even if that meant voting for the other party’s candidate. Men were not judged as harshly. Voters were willing to support their party’s candidate, even if that candidate was viewed as an incompetent man.

    The combination of a female candidate whose competence has been cast into doubt is such a potent combination of cues, that it can even trump voters’ party identification,” Ditonto said. “This was pretty unexpected, since party affiliation is almost always the strongest predictor of someone’s vote choice.”

    What does this mean for women?

    Gender stereotypes can have negative effects for female candidates, but they don’t have to, Ditonto said. Understanding that voters care about different things when evaluating women and men should underscore the need for women to focus campaigns on their competence and qualifications. However, gender stereotypes are often reinforced through media coverage, which is another challenge women must overcome, she said.

    “The fact that women are more disadvantaged by negative information than are men is problematic. Since information about political candidates is obtained in large part from the news media, this is a problem for women,” Ditonto said. “Women candidates are often ‘trivialized’ in the way the media talks about them and unbiased portrayals of women as competent politicians are not easy to come by.”

  10. Study suggests voter optimism wanes in runup to election day

    May 21, 2013 by Ashley

    From the UCR press release by Bettye Miller:

    politician_handshakeScholars have long known that voters tend to believe that the candidates they support will win, even when victory seems unlikely. But there has been little research about how voter expectations of election outcomes change in the weeks before Election Day, or how those expectations relate to the level of disappointment experienced when a favored candidate or ballot measure loses.

    A new study by psychologists at the University of California, Riverside and Iowa State University — “Causes and Consequences of Expectation Trajectories: ‘High’ on Optimism in a Public Ballot Initiative,” published this month online in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science — is the first to measure how voter expectations about favored candidates or ballot measures change over time.

    Researchers Kate Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside, and Zlatan Krizan, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University, surveyed 175 California voters during the five weeks before the November 2010 election about the ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The measure, Proposition 19, failed.

    Sweeny and Krizan found that voters who were better informed about waning support for the proposition were likely to lower their expectations regarding the measure’s passage as Election Day neared. However, being better informed about issues related to the initiative had less impact on those who favored the measure than among those who opposed it. Additionally, supporters who remained optimistic about the initiative’s outcome over time were more likely to vote and were more disappointed after the measure failed than those who became more pessimistic.

    “We’ve known for decades that people tend to brace for the worst by abandoning optimism as the moment of truth draws near, but we didn’t know whether this time-based shift in expectations mattered in and of itself,” Sweeny explained. “Our findings show that voters who defy that trend and maintain optimism up to Election Day are more motivated to vote but also more disappointed if things don’t turn out their way.”

    The researchers found that both proponents and opponents became less optimistic about the outcome as Election Day neared. People who remained optimistic about the proposition’s chances of passage were most likely to turn out and vote in favor, “which speaks to the motivating power of positive expectations and affirms the value of the intense efforts campaigns make to maintain voters’ optimism to the end,” they determined. “Campaigns typically invest substantial resources in maintaining optimism among supporters to the bitter end, which may explain why electoral expectations do not always shift toward pessimism.”

    Maintaining optimism comes at a cost, however, the psychologists said: Sustaining optimistic expectations in the face of information suggesting the likelihood of failure can exacerbate disappointment among supporters.

    “This disappointment, though short-lived, can be a poignant and memorable experience that is likely to come readily to mind the next time a voter considers investing time and energy in a beloved cause,” Sweeny noted. “As they say, once bitten, twice shy.”