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.
Wolfgang Steinel and Fieke Harinck
Bargaining and negotiation are the most constructive ways to handle conflict. Economic prosperity, order, harmony, and enduring social relationships are more likely to be reached by parties who decide to work together toward agreements that satisfy everyone’s interests than by parties who fight openly, dominate one another, break off contact, or take their dispute to an authority to resolve. There are two major research paradigms: distributive and integrative negotiation. Distributive negotiation (“bargaining”) focuses on dividing scarce resources and is studied in social dilemma research. Integrative negotiation focuses on finding mutually beneficial agreements and is studied in decision-making negotiation tasks with multiple issues. Negotiation behavior can be categorized by five different styles: distributive negotiation is characterized by forcing, compromising, or yielding behavior in which each party gives and takes; integrative negotiation is characterized by problem-solving behavior in which parties search for mutually beneficial agreements. Avoiding is the fifth negotiation style, in which parties do not negotiate. Cognitions (what people think about the negotiation) and emotions (how they feel about the negotiation and the other party) affect negotiation behavior and outcomes. Most cognitive biases hinder the attainment of integrative agreements. Emotions have intrapersonal and interpersonal effects, and can help or hinder the negotiation. Aspects of the social context, such as gender, power, cultural differences, and group constellations, affect negotiation behaviors and outcomes as well. Although gender differences in negotiation exist, they are generally small and are usually caused by stereotypical ideas about gender and negotiation. Power differences affect negotiation in such a way that the more powerful party usually has an advantage. Different cultural norms dictate how people will behave in a negotiation. Aspects of the situational context of a negotiation are, for example, time, communication media, and conflict issues. Communication media differ in whether they contain visual and acoustic channels, and whether they permit synchronous communication. The richness of the communication channel can help unacquainted negotiators to reach a good agreement, yet it can lead negotiators with a negative relationship into a conflict spiral. Conflict issues can be roughly categorized in scarce resources (money, time, land) on the one hand, and norms and values on the other. Negotiation is more feasible when dividing scarce resources, and when norms and values are at play in the negotiation, people generally have a harder time to find agreements, since the usual give and take is no longer feasible. Areas of future research include communication, ethics, physiological or hormonal correlates, or personality factors in negotiations.
Toby Bolsen and Risa Palm
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.
Contemporary political information processing and the subsequent decision-making mechanisms are suboptimal. Average voters usually have but vague notions of politics and cannot be said to be motivated to invest considerable amount of times to make up their minds about political affairs; furthermore, political information is not only complex and virtually infinite but also often explicitly designed to deceive and persuade by triggering unconscious mechanisms in those exposed to it. In this context, how can voters sample, process, and transform the political information they receive into reliable political choices? Two broad set of dynamics are at play. On the one hand, individual differences determine how information is accessed and processed: different personality traits set incentives (and hurdles) for information processing, the availability of information heuristics and the motivation to treat complex information determine the preference between easy and good decisions, and partisan preferences establish boundaries for information processing and selective exposure. On the other hand, and beyond these individual differences, the content of political information available to citizens drives decision-making: the alleged “declining quality” of news information poses threats for comprehensive and systematic reasoning; excessive negativity in electoral campaigns drives cynicism (but also attention); and the use of emotional appeals increases information processing (anxiety), decreases interest and attention (rage), and strengthens the reliance on individual predispositions (enthusiasm). At the other end of the decisional process, the quality of the choices made (Was the decision supported by “ambivalent” opinions? And to what extent was the decision “correct”?) is equally hard to assess, and fundamental normative questions come into play.
Message sensation value (MSV) is defined as the degree to which a message’s format and content features elicit sensory, affective, and arousal responses. MSV research has received considerable scholarly and professional attention for more than two decades. The seminal work, to date, has been conducted by the Kentucky School. MSV was initially operationalized as perceived message sensation value (PMSV). The activation model of information exposure (AMIE) provides the basis for explaining the functional mechanism of MSV and PMSV. The AMIE proposes that exposure is a function of the interaction between an individual’s sensation-seeking tendency and sensation-enhancing attributes of the message itself. There are three primary types of message features that contribute to MSV: (a) the formal video dimension, (b) the formal audio dimension, and (c) the content dimension. There is an important distinction between subjective reactions to the message (PMSV) and the format and content features contributing to these reactions (MSV). In general, messages of high relative to low in sensation value have elicited greater message processing and more favorable evaluations across a range of outcome variables in health communication. Some health communication campaigns have employed high sensation value messages to target high sensation seekers. This sensation-seeking targeting approach, SENTAR, however, has received mixed and limited support. The influence of MSV on message effectiveness might be very similar for the two groups. Recently, some scholars have attempted to situate AMIE in a broader context of persuasion. First, AMIE and the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) offer competing predictions in terms of the role of MSV in persuasion, such that AMIE stresses a straightforward attention-getting effect, whereas ELM predicts a distracting effect of MSV interfering with message’s content. The very few studies conducted thus far reveal limited and mixed findings. Second, in the integration of MSV research with the appraisal theory and excitation-transfer theory, MSV may function as an arousal generator to amplify the influence of discrete emotions on perceived message effectiveness. Third, according to the psychological reactance theory, there are challenges with implementing high sensation value (HSV) messages, in that they potentially could backfire among the target audiences. Messages with HSV may garner better-perceived effectiveness when they tone down the controlling language. Future studies should investigate the relationships between specific MSV-enhancing features and message processing. They can expand the literature by studying the impact of MSV in a variety of media message contexts (e.g., broadcast journalism). Future experiments might also incorporate psychophysiological measures (e.g., skin response and heart-rate deceleration) to complement self-reported measures. Future studies should continue to explore other features (e.g., visual-verbal redundancy) that might affect attention and message processing jointly with MSV, and other individual difference variables, such as need for cognition, trait reactance, locus of control, and etc.