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Cognitive models of political behavior and political decision making have been a staple of research in political science for decades. Recent advances in cognitive psychology and behavioral decision making underscore the utility of models that incorporate memory dynamics for understanding a wide range of political behaviors at the individual level. Four memory systems are relevant; sensory memory, short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory. Information moves from sensory memory to short-term memory stores, a subset of which is then acted upon by working memory. Working memory manipulates its contents through processes such as reasoning, comprehension, attention, integration, and retrieval of supplementary information from long-term memory. Working memory ultimately holds and processes the thoughts and feelings that are salient to an individual at a given point in time. Memory models of decision making elaborate what cognitions and emotions are likely to enter working memory and how those cognitions and emotions are combined and integrated when making a behavioral decision.

Article

Citizens are continuously inundated with political information. How do citizens process that information for use in decision-making? Political psychologists have generally thought of information processing as proceeding through a series of stages: (1) exposure and attention; (2) comprehension; (3) encoding, interpretation, and elaboration; (4) organization and storage in memory; and (5) retrieval. This processing of information relies heavily on two key structures: working memory and long-term memory. Working memory actively processes incoming information whereas long-term memory is the storage structure of the brain. The most widely accepted organizational scheme for long-term memory is the associative network model. In this model, information stored in long-term memory is organized as a series of connected nodes. Each node in the network represents a concept with links connecting the various concepts. The links between nodes represent beliefs about the connection between concepts. These links facilitate retrieval of information through a process known as spreading activation. Spreading activation moves information from long-term memory to working memory. When cued nodes are retrieved from memory, they activate linked nodes thereby weakly activating further nodes and so forth. Repeatedly activated nodes are the most likely to be retrieved from long-term memory for use in political decision-making. The concept of an associative network model of memory has informed a variety of research avenues, but several areas of inquiry remain underdeveloped. Specifically, many researchers rely on an associative network model of memory without questioning the assumptions and implications of the model. Doing so might further inform our understanding of information processing in the political arena. Further, voters are continuously flooded with political and non-political information; thus, exploring the role that the larger information environment can play in information processing is likely to be a fruitful path for future inquiry. Finally, little attention has been devoted to the various ways a digital information environment alters the way citizens process political information. In particular, the instantaneous and social nature of digital information may short-circuit information processing.

Article

Various therapeutic discourses on trauma claim that a successful working through of a traumatic experience amounts to forgiveness and the victim’s reconciliation with the past. Recently, several voices have been raised against this claim, arguing that refusal to forgive is a sort of moral dignity, a defense of the victim’s integral subjectivity, and a moral protest against the unjustifiable evils and wrongdoings the victim has suffered. Among the emotions the victim is left with after the traumatic experience and after the reluctance to forgive the perpetrators and get along with life are, of course, anger, hate, indignation, depression, humiliation, and shame. An additional and far more complex emotion that characterizes the posttraumatic experience is ressentiment. Forgiveness and ressentiment are discussed as moral stances against evils and traumas. The basic tenets are: (1) the link between agency, forgiveness, and memory; (2) the moral nature of ressentiment as a Schelerean concept that parts company not only from resentment (qua moral indignation) but also from grudges and envy; (3) the dismembering of forgiveness and ressentiment premised not on the victim’s resistance to dealing with the past (or moral hypermnesia), as is usually thought, but on the process of transvaluation inherent in ressentiment, which places forgiveness beyond the victim’s hermeneutic horizon.

Article

Institutional amnesia can be defined in simple terms as an organization’s inability to recall and use historical knowledge for present-day purposes. However, the concept requires to be defined more expansively so that its causes and effects can be fully understood in relation to crises and crisis management. This means conceptualizing institutional amnesia in broader terms as something that influences individual crisis managers, the formal institutional aspects of crisis management agencies, the cultural dimensions of those agencies, and the wider systemic location within which both actors and agencies reside. The analysis of the effects of amnesia in each of these areas reveals the profound effects that it can have on various aspects of crisis management. Institutional amnesia can affect the performance of crisis management policies and the politics of crises more generally. In particular, memory loss can be seen to influence crisis decision-making that relies upon historical analogy, crisis learning which demands that learned lessons are formally institutionalized across time, and meaning-making efforts, which draw upon recollections of the past to justify political projects in the present. The effects that institutional amnesia has on these three important areas illuminate its relevance to crisis analysis. Yet amnesia, and to some extent memory, continue to be concepts that are neglected, or referred to tangentially, by mainstream crisis scholars.

Article

Online processing, and the models arising from it, starts with an optimistic view of the American voter, in which it is supposed that the seeming ignorance of voters does not prevent them from expressing rational attitudes about the very political objects they do not know much about. This means that the seeming ignorance of voters is not necessarily a threat to electoral democracy, but the cognitive structures needed for this sort of rationality also lead to necessary, and sometimes extreme, biases in political information processing. Since information stored in long-term memory is linked, both semantically and affectively (that is, based on the perceived positive or negative valence of the information), affect—understood here as a simple positive or negative valence—colors all steps of information processing. For instance, individuals are likely to avoid, or counter-argue, or simply reject information that is at odds with their existing views. As a result, individuals of different political persuasions may have difficulty coming to agreement on the correct interpretation of relevant facts, or even the facts themselves. Alternative memory-based models, which propose that evaluations are constructed on the spot when a question is asked, may help to explain response instability, but fail to serve as complete replacements for the online processing approach. The bias caused by affect-infused cognition seems to present challenges for electoral democracy just as much as the seeming ignorance it accounts for, but it is argued that such biases are mostly limited to individuals who already hold fairly strong existing attitudes, a group which is unlikely to include most voters. Moreover, some degree of intransigence is likely a good thing, as the alternative is views that shift rapidly with new information.

Article

Rüdiger F. Pohl and Edgar Erdfelder

Hindsight bias describes the tendency of persons—after the outcome of an event is known—to overestimate their foresight. For example, following a political election, persons tend to retrospectively adjust their predictions to the actual outcome. These judgment distortions are very robust and have been observed in a variety of domains and tasks. About 50 years of research on hindsight bias have meanwhile brought a wealth of findings and insights. Core research questions are (1) how to explain hindsight bias in terms of underlying processes, (2) whether there are individual differences in susceptibility, (3) how the bias possibly impedes decision-making in applied contexts, such as political decision-making, and (4) how possibly to overcome it. Theoretical approaches suggest that there are distinct components of hindsight bias, and that several, mainly cognitive, mechanisms are responsible for them. Using stochastic models of hindsight bias allows us to estimate the relative proportions of these mechanisms. Depending on the task, motivational factors may also exert their influence. In addition, the strength of hindsight bias appears to be related to some personality traits and also to age. For example, some authors found that hindsight bias tends to increase with the tendency toward favorable self-presentation and to decrease with intelligence. Moreover, lifespan studies have shown that children and older adults show larger hindsight bias than young adults. Hindsight bias has been found in political decision-making (as well as in other applied domains). Surprisingly, attempts to overcome hindsight bias have mainly failed, whereas only a few debiasing techniques show promising results. In sum, one important conclusion is to be continuously aware of the potentially distorting influence of outcome knowledge on the evaluation of our own (or other’s) prior knowledge state.

Article

Truth commissions have become common instruments to document human rights violations for societies emerging from authoritarian violence around the world since the 1980s. First appearing as mechanisms to attempt to address rights violations and to pursue reconciliation or justice in the aftermath of Latin American dictatorships that ended in the 1980s and early 1990s, such commissions and their published reports became important tools for societies transitioning from authoritarianism and for addressing the state’s past rights violations in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America. These commissions, and the reports they issue, serve to recognize the state’s responsibility in violence and repression. Such reports can be an important factor in uncovering the truth of repression and the experiences and voices of victims, victims’ family members, and survivors. These reports also often address reconciliation and even justice for victims, though such reports’ successes in these areas are more mixed. Nonetheless, truth commission reports and other truth projects from non-governmental organizations are important artifacts in documenting the repressive past for societies transitioning from authoritarian regimes. As important as such reports—from states and from non-governmental organizations alike—are, they are also a product of their particular historical, political, and social milieus. Consequently, truth project reports are important artifacts in understanding both the violently repressive past and resistance to it, and the historical moment in which such reports on that past are produced. Memory is especially integral in the production of such documents. The voices of survivors and of victims’ families allow previously silenced memories to gain public expression, even while their framing and use of language reflects the ways power operates in memory and in transitional societies. As a result, scholars can treat such reports not just as documents of authoritarian repression, but as snapshots of societies addressing transitional justice. These moments and documents not only seek to thoroughly narrate past repression; they reflect power relations at the very moment of a report’s production. As a study of these types of reports—non-governmental and official—in Brazil reveal, such documents can thus be read for expressions of power along gendered lines. The result is an ability to read truth reports both as a document detailing repression within and resistance to authoritarian regimes, and how memory serves as a site for the intersection of power along gendered, class-based, or other social markers present in the use of language, narrative structures, and memories of repression and resistance in a post-authoritarian setting.