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Article

Motivated reasoning is a pervasive force in politics. The concept of motivated reasoning was developed and elaborated in both psychology and economics as a way of understanding the way in which people learn and respond to information, and as a mechanism to explain behavior that is seen as less than optimal. It has been important in political science since the early 2000s. Political scientists initially connected the distinct constructs of motivated reasoning with online information processing, given the affective, unconscious, and automatic bases of both processes, but they later distinguished cognitive effort and processing style from underlying goals or motivation. Most research on motivated reasoning in political science focuses on two primary motivations: accuracy and directional goals. An accuracy motivation is defined by reasoning that seeks to arrive at a conclusion that is free from error given the information at hand, whereas a directional goal is defined by a desire to protect one’s existing beliefs or identities. Much of the early research on motivated reasoning in political science painted citizens as incapable of evaluating information objectively, and, to make matters worse, citizens’ processing biases appeared to increase with political knowledge, interest, and the strength of existing political beliefs. A second generation of research on motivated reasoning identified individual-level and contextual factors that moderated or eliminated directional biases. Scholars developed a better understanding of how motivations rooted in partisan identity affect information interpretation, evaluation, and decision-making, as well how different information environments can shift the motivations that citizens pursue when they are reasoning about politics. The pursuit of an accuracy motivation in political reasoning is now considered a realistic and attainable standard for evaluating citizen competence in democratic societies that avoids many of the pitfalls of past attempts to define the quality of citizens’ reasoning capacities.

Article

Survey research is often interpreted as an exact science, but its role in assessing the social world—and its foundation in statistics—make it a methodological tool less about absolute certainty and more about estimation, choice, and trade-off. Much like any other research method, the survey process involves a number of important decisions for a researcher to make, and every decision affects not only the end result but also all of the subsequent choices along the way. Some of the most important issues that any researcher conducting a survey should consider include sampling, questionnaire design, and modality—and how these decisions, in turn, affect the thought processes and responses of survey takers. Each of these broader categories involves a multitude of choices that are dictated by research goals, as well as time and budget constraints. These aspects of the survey process have become more complex—and thus decisions have become more challenging—in the face of rapidly declining response rates and skyrocketing costs. There is no singular survey formula or path that all researchers follow; survey research is instead an accumulation of knowledge and best practices, trial and error of new techniques, and continual adaptation—all in an effort to say something with some level of statistical confidence about a particular population.

Article

Yoshiharu Kobayashi

Economic sanctions are an attempt by states to coerce a change in the policy of another state by restricting their economic relationship with the latter. Between, roughly, the 1960s–1980s, the question dominating the study of sanctions was whether they are an effective tool of foreign policy. Since the 1990s, however, with the introduction of large-N datasets, scholars have turned to more systematic examinations of previously little explored questions, such as when and how sanctions work, when and why states employ sanctions, and why some sanctions last longer than others. Two dominant perspectives, one based on strategic logic and the other on domestic politics, have emerged, providing starkly different answers to these questions. A growing body of evidence lends support to both strategic and domestic politics perspectives, but also points to areas in which they fall short. To complement these shortcomings, a new direction for research is to unite these perspectives into a single theoretical framework.

Article

Cognitive theory encompasses mental activities such as the observation of different stimuli in an environment; the memorization and recall of information; pattern recognition and problem representation; and complex activities like social judgments, analytic reasoning, and learning. Cognitive psychology also highlights the constraints that prevent individuals from acting as utility-maximizing, fully rational decision-makers. These constraints lead people to rely on a regularly occurring set of cognitive mechanisms to simplify the decision-making process. Scholars of foreign policy have drawn from several prominent areas of cognitive psychology to inform their research. One such area looks at the beliefs and belief systems that are the building blocks for most judgments. Researchers have also examined how actors use cognitive biases and heuristics to cope with uncertainty, which is abundant in foreign policy settings. An important set of cognitive mechanisms examined in Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) relates to judgments about policy risks and costs. Factors that facilitate and inhibit learning are crucial for understanding the conditions under which such judgments may improve over time. No cognitive process operates in a vacuum; instead these processes are moderated by an individual’s group context and emotions. There are several challenges in applying cognitive theory to FPA. Such theories are biased toward populations that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. They are usually first tested using controlled experiments that measure group-level differences; whereas FPA scholars are often interested in the cognitive processes of individual leaders operating in chaotic environments. Individual-level psychological mechanisms may augment or offset one another, as well as interact with variables at the governmental, societal, and international levels of analysis in unpredictable ways. In light of these challenges, FPA scholars who employ cognitive psychology may wish to conceive of their enterprise as a historical science rather than a predictive one.

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

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

The application of evolutionary theories or models to explain political decision making is quickly maturing, fundamentally interdisciplinary, and irreducibly complex. This hybridization has yielded significant benefits, including real progress toward understanding the conditions under which cooperation is possible, and a clearer understanding of the apparently “irrational” drivers of political violence. Decision making requires a nervous system that conditions motivation and behavior upon adaptively relevant cues in the environment. Such systems do not exist because they maximize utility, enlightenment, or scientific truth; they exist because on average they led to outcomes that were reproductively beneficial in ancestral environments. The reproductive challenges faced by our ancestors included not only ecological problems of predator avoidance but also political problems such as inter-group threat and the distribution of resources within groups. Therefore, evolutionary approaches to political decision making require direct and deep engagement of the logic whereby natural selection builds adaptations. This view of human psychology yields valuable insights on the domain specificity of political decision making as well as the psychological consequences of mismatch between modern and ancestral environments. In other words, there is accumulating evidence that many of the complex adaptations of the human brain were designed to solve the many problems of ancestral politics. This discussion begins by distinguishing evolutionary approaches from other frameworks used to explain political decision making, such as rational choice, or realism in international relations. Since evolutionary models of political decision making have now produced decades of original theoretical and empirical contributions, we are in a useful position to take stock of this research landscape. Doing so crystalizes the promises, perils, and scope of evolutionary approaches to politics.

Article

The representativeness heuristic was defined by Kahneman and Tversky as a decision-making shortcut in which people judge probabilities “by the degree to which A is representative of B, that is, by the degree to which A resembles B.” People who use this cognitive shortcut bypass more detailed processing of the likelihood of the event in question but instead focus on what (stereotypic) category it appears to fit and the associations they have about that category. Simply put: If it looks like a duck, it probably is a duck. The representativeness heuristic usually works well and provides valid inferences about likelihood. This is why political scientists saw it as an important part of a solution to an enduring problem in their field: How can people make political decisions when so many studies show they lack even basic knowledge about politics? According to these scholars, voters do not need to be aware of all actions and opinions of a political candidate running for office. To make up their mind on who to vote for, they can rely on cues that represent the performance and issue position of candidates, such as the party they are affiliated with, their ranking in the polls, and whether (for instance) they act/appear presidential. In other words, they need to answer the question: Does this candidate fit my image of a successful president? The resulting low-information rationality provides voters with much confidence in their voting decision, even though they do not know all the details about the history of each candidate. Using heuristics allows relatively uninformed citizens to act as if they were fully informed. Despite this optimistic view of heuristics at their introduction to the discipline, they originated from research showing how heuristic use is accompanied by systematic error. Tversky and Kahneman argue that using the representativeness heuristic leads to an overreliance on similarity to a category and a neglect of prior probability, sample size, and the reliability and validity of the available cue. Kuklinsky and Quirk first warned about the potential effect of these biases in the context of political decision-making. Current research often examines the effects of specific cues/stereotypes, like party, gender, race, class, or more context-specific heuristics like the deservingness heuristic. Another strand of research has started exploring the effect of the representativeness heuristic on decision-making by political elites, rather than voters. Future studies can integrate these findings to work toward a fuller understanding of the effects of the representativeness heuristic in political decision-making, more closely consider individual differences and the effects of different contexts, and map the consequences that related systematic biases might have.

Article

Hate crimes (or bias crimes) are crimes motivated by an offenders’ personal bias against a particular social group. Modern hate crimes legislation developed out of civil rights protections based on race, religion, and national origin; however, the acts that constitute a hate crime have expanded over time, as have the groups protected by hate crimes legislation. Anti-LGBT hate crimes, in which victims are targeted based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people are highly overrepresented as victims of hate crimes given the number of LGBT people in the population, and this is especially true of hate crimes against transgender women. Despite the frequency of these crimes, the legal framework for addressing them varies widely across the United States. Many states do not have specific legislation that addresses anti-LGBT hate crimes, while others have legislation that mandates data collection on those crimes but does not enhance civil or criminal penalties for them, and some offer enhanced civil and/or criminal penalties. Even in states that do have legislation to address these types of hate crimes, some states only address hate crimes based on sexual orientation but not those based on gender identity. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act gives the federal government the authority to prosecute those crimes regardless of jurisdiction; however, this power has been used in a limited capacity. Hate crimes are distinct from other crimes that are not motivated by bias. For example, thrill seeking, retaliation, or the desire to harm or punish members of a particular social group often motivates perpetrators of hate crimes; these motivations often result in hate crimes being more violent than other similar crimes. The difference in the motivation of offenders also has significant consequences for victims, both physically and mentally. Victims of hate crimes are more likely to require medical attention than victims of non-bias crimes. Likewise, victims of hate crimes, and especially anti-LGBT hate crimes, often experience negative psychological outcomes, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety as a result of being victimized for being a member of an already marginalized social group.

Article

Brian F. Harrison and Melissa R. Michelson

Gordon Allport’s Intergroup Contact Theory predicts that coming into contact with a member of an outgroup will, under the right conditions, lead to reduced intergroup prejudice. Scholars have found significant evidence that contact with gay men and lesbians does typically lead to reductions in explicit prejudice, even when Allport’s specific conditions are not met. People who report that they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian are more supportive of gay and lesbian rights and relationships and people who report contact with same-sex couples in committed relationships are more supportive of legal recognition of those relationships. There is also evidence that mediated contact, also known as paracontact, can reduce prejudice—in other words, that exposure to positively portrayed gay men and lesbians via the media, including television shows, can shift attitudes. Less is known about how contact affects attitudes toward bisexuals, but initial evidence suggests similar effects. Contact with transgender people is more mixed, with some evidence that interpersonal contact is not as effective due to the negative reactions that many individuals have to transgender people, and some evidence that mediated contact may be more effective, although this is also limited due to the small (but growing) number of positively portrayed transgender characters in the media. A final complication is self-selection bias, in that members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community are more likely to come out to individuals whom they believe will respond positively but both observational and experimental evidence suggests that this does not completely explain the power of contact to reduce prejudice against LGBT people.

Article

Konstantinos V. Katsikopoulos

Polymath, and also political scientist, Herbert Simon dared to point out that the amounts of time, information, computation, and other resources required for maximizing utility far exceed what is possible when real people have to make real decisions in the real world. In psychology, there are two main approaches to studying actual human judgment and decision making—the heuristics-and-bias and the fast-and-frugal-heuristics research programs. A distinctive characteristic of the fast-and-frugal-heuristics program is that it specifies formal models of heuristics and attempts to determine when people use them and what performance they achieve. These models rely on a few pieces of information that are processed in computationally simple ways. The information and computation are within human reach, which means that people rely on information they have relatively easy access to and employ simple operations such as summing or comparing numbers. Research in the laboratory and in the wild has found that most people use fast and frugal heuristics most of the time if a decision must be made quickly, information is expensive financially or cognitively to gather, or a single/few attributes of the problem strongly point towards an option. The ways in which people switch between heuristics is studied in the framework of the adaptive toolbox. Work employing computer simulations and mathematical analyses has uncovered conditions under which fast and frugal heuristics achieve higher performance than benchmarks from statistics and machine learning, and vice versa. These conditions constitute the theory of ecological rationality. This theory suggests that fast and frugal heuristics perform better than complex optimization models if the available information is of low quality or scarce, or if there exist dominant options or attributes. The bias-variance decomposition of statistical prediction error, which is explained in layperson’s terms, underpins these claims. Research on fast and frugal heuristics suggests a governance approach not based on nudging, but on boosting citizen competence.

Article

Hate crime policy has developed from the early legislation of the 1968 Civil Rights Act to the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, to be increasingly inclusive in terms of identity and comprehensive in terms of ramifications. Hence a body of scholarship around the trajectory and implications of hate crime laws has developed, as has a robust discourse on the definitions of hate crime itself and theories on who perpetrates bias-motivated violence and why it occurs. Between definitions of hate crime, a tension exists between legal definitions and those of theorists who are attempting incorporate understanding of context into the definition. Similarly, the theories on who perpetrates hate crimes and why they occur exhibit tensions between strain-based theories. While some scholars have deployed Merton’s (1938) strain theory associated with societal anomie, others point to changing norms. As hate crime laws have become more inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, avenues of research into the disparities in experience of bias-motivated crimes between enumerated categories has increased. Persistent in the research on hate crime is the deficiency of data on victimization and ramifications beyond direct victims. While data on the scope of the policies is clear, inconsistencies in data collection around victimization render available resources insufficient. Most recently, research on hate crime policy has intersected with queer theory to question whether hate crime laws are positive for the LGBTQ community or society at large. Organizations such as the Silvia Rivera Law Project, for example, have pushed back on calls for inclusive hate crime laws via challenging the propensity to provide additional resources to the prison-industrial complex. Furthermore, queer scholars of history find a disconnect between the origins of the LGBTI movement in resisting police powers to be antithetical to promoting increased police powers in the form of hate crime legislation.

Article

Francesco Passarelli and Alessandro Del Ponte

Prospect theory introduces several anomalies in the behavior of rational agents, including loss aversion, the reflection effect, probability weighting, and the certainty effect. Loss aversion occurs relative to the current state of the world, called reference point. Being loss averse causes people to prefer the current state of affairs above and beyond the expected utility that comes from a risky political change, engendering a status quo bias. Yet, bias is asymmetric due to the reflection effect: people are too tepid toward advantageous platforms or candidates, whereas they are not critical enough of detrimental policies or bad politicians. Both rich and poor citizens take similar stances on nonpartisan issues (such as national defense): this happens because they evaluate uncertain policy changes relative to a reference point. Citizens welcome radical political platforms with greater enthusiasm than incremental proposals. Generally, under prospect theory societal conflict is smoother than under expected utility theory. Older societies are more prone to preserving the status quo than younger ones. These properties also affect the choice of voting rules. Loss aversion induces people to prefer more prudent voting rules and preserve the status quo. Hence, agents favor higher majority thresholds or even unanimity over simple majority in constitutional choice. The status quo bias supports the persistence of policy cycles, with prolonged drifts in one direction before a trend reversal. In sum, loss aversion and other anomalies pinpointed by prospect theory offer insightful predictions with which to study political phenomena.