Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Political Brain No.3


There is no way I cannot comment on the study reported on in this WaPo article. The first part of the article looks at the brain-scan study I mentioned before, but the second half is devoted to a new study, tying - I know, surprise, surprise - racist feelings with conservative ideology:

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.

The study has not been published yet, and I will try to get a copy once it does, so for now we will have to go with whatever the WaPo reported choose to highlight in the article. This ties the two studies quite well - emotions trump rational thought in politics and ideology:

"What automatic biases reveal is that while we have the feeling we are living up to our values, that feeling may not be right," said University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek, who helped conduct the race analysis. "We are not aware of everything that causes our behavior, even things in our own lives."
In the best tradition of He-Said-She-Said journalism, there is a paragraph given to the "other side":

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.
Which just goes to show that the guy is anti-science in general, especially when he a priori does not like the outcome of a study. Notice he rejects the study he has not read yet. I am not uncritically accepting the study I have not read yet, I am just reporting on the reporting of the study, with proper caveats. Still, this seems like a reasonable methodology:

Nosek said that though the risk of bias among researchers was "a reasonable question," the study provided empirical results that could -- and would -- be tested by other groups: "All we did was compare questions that people could answer any way they wanted," Nosek said, as he explained why he felt personal views could not have influenced the outcome. "We had no direct contact with participants."
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.
Keep in mind that this is correlation, not causation:

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.
"Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president," said Banaji, "but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice."

I am not surprised with the findings of another related study:

Vincent Hutchings, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said the results matched his own findings in a study he conducted ahead of the 2000 presidential election: Volunteers shown visual images of blacks in contexts that implied they were getting welfare benefits were far more receptive to Republican political ads decrying government waste than volunteers shown ads with the same message but without images of black people.

This is an interesting question:

Jon Krosnick, a psychologist and political scientist at Stanford University, who independently assessed the studies, said it remains to be seen how significant the correlation is between racial bias and political affiliation.
For example, he said, the study could not tell whether racial bias was a better predictor of voting preference than, say, policy preferences on gun control or abortion. But while those issues would be addressed in subsequent studies -- Krosnick plans to get random groups of future voters to take the psychological tests and discuss their policy preferences -- he said the basic correlation was not in doubt.

And I bet that the most significant correlation, according to earlier studies, will be between sexism and political affiliation, as well as between sexism and racism. After all, this is nothing new - Republicans have played the race game for decades:

"If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they are in denial," he said. "We have 50 years of evidence that racial prejudice predicts voting. Republicans are supported by whites with prejudice against blacks. If people say, 'This takes me aback,' they are ignoring a huge volume of research."

Related:
Political Brain No.1
Political Brain No.2

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