Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interesting new research on the psychology of ideology

I noticed this article in my news feed this morning, and thought I would share it with you:

A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That's a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics—upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a "negativity bias," meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of "a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," as one of their papers put it).

In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.
The article goes on to mention how Jost and colleagues' classic 2003 paper was met by a great deal of friction when it was first published. These days, it appears that there is widespread acceptance that conservatives and liberals (broadly defined) really do experience the world differently, and there are not only psychological but physiological underpinnings for the phenomenon. It will be interesting to see where this line of research leads.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Facebook's questionable psychological experiment

From The Atlantic:

But few users expect that Facebook would change their News Feed in order to manipulate their emotional state.

We now know that’s exactly what happened two years ago. For one week in January 2012, data scientists skewed what almost 700,000 Facebook users saw when they logged into its service. Some people were shown content with a preponderance of happy and positive words; some were shown content analyzed as sadder than average. And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative words themselves.

This tinkering was just revealed as part of a new study, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many previous studies have used Facebook data to examine “emotional contagion,” as this one did. This study is different because, while other studies have observed Facebook user data, this one set out to manipulate it.
The article goes on to discuss the lack of informed consent and debriefing that are usually considered standard operating procedure for social psychology experiments. Individuals affected in the experiment were never explicitly notified that they were going to be studied and that the data would be potentially published, nor were they given an option to opt out. There was a certain amount of deception - by omission if nothing else - and under such circumstances it is expected that individuals who have been deceived will be fully debriefed as to the nature of the experiment, the expected findings, and the significance of those findings (scientific, personal, etc.).

An IRB apparently signed off on it, so the authors have that to fall back on, I suppose. Social network activity is a rather tricky gray area. It is not really "public" but it is not really "private" either. I think it is understandable, nonetheless, that many Facebook users feel a bit violated right now, and with good reason. While this experiment may not quite have the "creep factor" of some field experiments from the past (see this one, for example), its publication should give us pause. Once more as a community, we as social scientists need to ask ourselves about the limits of what is considered "fair game" for research in an era of social networking websites, and those limits need to be explicitly clarified by the appropriate umbrella organizations for our discipline (such as the APA).

In the meantime, I suppose many will be wondering how many more Facebook users have been guinea pigs in psychological experiments.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Photos from this year's George Gerbner Conference

For those of you who might be interested, I thought I would share the photos of this year's George Gerbner Conference on Communication, Conflict, and Aggression, hosted at the University of Applied Sciences, Budapest (BKF). Our paper, Framing Effects on Attitudes Toward Torture, was well-received, and overall the conference was productive. Next on tap is submitting the manuscript for publication at a relevant peer-review journal.

There were several interesting presentations. One that caught my attention was one dealing with violent video games. The impression I got from the presenter was that although the science demonstrating a causal influence between violent video games and aggression is quite consistent at this point (although not without some debate), the science itself is of secondary influence as far as policy goes. Instead, it appears that proponents and opponents of regulating video games tend to latch on whatever published research appears to support their particular views while ignoring the rest. That is a rather disheartening revelation, although not entirely unexpected, given the content of student term papers I peruse every semester in my social psychology classes.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Academic Conference Fundraising

One of the more exciting things to happen over the last few weeks was that I was invited to attend the George Gerbner Conference on Communication, Conflict, and Aggression later this month (note that they have not yet published this year's program, although last year's should give you an insight into the types of papers that get presented there). This was a somewhat short-notice opportunity for me, and given that it is located in Budapest, Hungary, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. The one drawback to handling the process of travel to academic conferences late in the academic year in this age of austerity and budget cuts is that it was not entirely clear what, if any, funding the university would be able to provide to me. I did manage to get the airfare covered, which truly was the major hurdle. However, I am going to be funding the rest out of pocket. A student recently suggested setting up a fundraising campaign to help offset the remaining expenses, and at this time I am going to make the fundraising site available to you. If you have some spare change to chip in (at least enough to offset lodging and some food and subway expenses), I would be appreciative. I can't really offer a lot in return, other than evidence of my attendance, and perhaps copies of my own work from the conference (such as my PowerPoint presentation and the final copy of my accepted paper), but for those interested in attitudes toward torture and media effects more broadly, perhaps you would find something of value in what I do. If you do choose to contribute, I thank you tremendously.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One of Google Scholar's useful features

I recently made my citations profile on Google Scholar public. Even though I am not going to have the sort of prolific research program like those of my colleagues at R-1 institutions, I still find it helpful to track the impact of the articles I have either authored or coauthored. It is helpful to have data on the impact of one's articles for any of a number of reasons, ranging from curiosity to making a case for promotion or tenure. Some promotion committees will take into consideration not only the number of peer review publications a faculty member has generated, but also how often each article is cited. Article impact is not currently considered at my present institution, although as the institution becomes more "publish or perish" I can imagine issues regarding impact will emerge as faculty come up for promotion in the near future.

Beyond the need to make a case for promotion, I find it helpful to track new citations to my previously published work (something I refer to my methods students as "treeing forward") in order to conveniently discover other relevant research pertaining to my areas of expertise. Certainly, I want to keep up with any possible replications and extensions of my previous work, as well as to find out what new research avenues have been opened by my work and the work of my coauthors. Obviously, as a scientific writer, I publish to be read. Hence, I am now using the My Citations profile as a  diagnostic tool, in hopes of determining appropriate potential journals for future submissions, and to rule out journals that appear to be inadequately cataloged.

Although I usually consider the Social Science Citation Index as the definitive source for tracking new citations, the Google Scholar search engine is pretty impressive, and useful when working at a smaller university without SSCI access.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Measuring Social Class

I often don't have much to say with regard to social class, except to the extent that social stratification betrays a certain level of organizational and structural violence endemic to a particular nationality, but I do find Mark Rubin's commentary on the subject to be worth reading.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recent Publication

Chasing the elusive left-wing authoritarian: An examination of Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Left-Wing Authoritarianism scales was published as of last Friday. It's a data set I have been meaning to have published for a while now, and one that essentially replicates Altemeyer's (1996) findings.