Today’s Science carries a review of what appears to be an interesting book. (I haven’t read it myself, so I am relying on the reviewer here.) The book is Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by Ted Brader, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. It deals with political advertisements, and how they work to target voters’ emotions. Brader analyses how subtle cues, such as music or brightly coloured images of children, can frame the ads’ contents in specific ways. And, following this analysis, he argues that “enthusiastic” and “fear inducing” ads elicit different mental reactions in whose who watch them. In the words of James Druckman, the reviewer:
Enthusiastic ads motivate individuals to participate (e.g., willingness to volunteer, intention to vote), and once participating, these individuals are likely to become even more committed to their prior preferences. The implication is that enthusiasm leads to political polarization by pushing voters to take action on behalf of their prior convictions. Fear ads have less particiatory power – although to some extent they motivate sophisticated individuals. But, fear can open the gates of persuation, and these ads tend to cause individuals to consider new information and possibly change their political preferences.
I cannot see from the review whether or not Brader considers the now vast neurobiological literature on preference formation and decision-making. But it would be an obvious thing for political scientists to do so. In 2003 the journal Political Psychology (Vol 24, Issue 4) attempted such an integration but I am not sure it has had a lot of impact on political science yet. For the rest of us, the main lesson is to turn off the tube when those attack ads come on!
Brader, T. (2006): Campaigning for hearts and minds. University of Chicago Press.
Druckman, J. (2006): Stroking the voters’ passions. Science 312: 1878-1879.
Winkielman, P. & Berridge, K. (2003): Irrational wanting and subrational liking: How rudimentary motivational and affective processes shape preferences and choices. Political Psychology 24: 657-680.
Lieberman, M.D., Schreiber, D. & Ochsner, K.N. (2003): Is political cognition like riding a bicycle? How cognitive neuroscience can inform research on political thinking. Political Psychology 24: 681-704.