Friday, October 08, 2004

Terror Management
A new American Psychological Society article (thanks Stevie T!) looks into the relationship between political preference and reminders of our own mortality. I should leave it to those accustomed to reading psych to tell us how compelling this one is. I have to admit to a heavy skepticism of this kind of interview-based study. Wouldn't the subjects have a decent idea of what the interviewer is getting at and adjust accordingly? I'd like to know more details about how the study was conducted. But it's interesting as is.
students were asked to think about their own death or a control topic and then read campaign statements purportedly written by three political candidates in an upcoming gubernatorial election. The candidates varied in leadership style. The charismatic leader stated: "You are not just an ordinary citizen, you are part of a special state and a special nation." The task-oriented leader stated: "I can accomplish all the goals that I set out to do. I am very careful in laying out a detailed blueprint of what needs to be done so that there is no ambiguity." The relationship-oriented leader stated: "I encourage all citizens to take an active role in improving their state. I know that each individual can make a difference."

After reading these statements, participants selected the candidate they would vote for in an election. Results were striking. After thinking about a control topic, only four of 95 participants voted for the charismatic candidate, with the rest of the votes split evenly between the task and relationship oriented leaders. However, following a reminder of death, there was almost an 800 percent increase in votes for the charismatic leader (31); votes for the task-oriented leader were unaffected, but the relationship-oriented leader's votes significantly declined.
Order of questioning in polls is also known to have an impact on how people answer, but it seems to say more about the questioner-answerer dynamic than it does about the reality of the person. I wonder if that's not inplay here as well. Wouldn't it be impossible to hear the questions and not actively speculate on what the tester is getting at? We're so darned suggestible that self-assessment is so very hard at times. But for sure I think Bush/Rove have used fear to their political advantage.

But I don't know psychology, or polling.

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