In sum, why are we sometimes committed to a cause while at other times willing to engage in compromise? AIT offers some testable hypotheses that my colleagues and I have been exploring over the past two plus decades. I focus on two of them below. For my colleagues and I, the appeal of this theory is that it offers new and unexpected lines of inquiry, and with this the possibility of new insights, especially on long established received wisdom MacKuen et al. The first has to do with understanding how people go about voting. The second has to do with a longstanding claim that what animates conservatives is fear of change, one the core epistemic motives currently understood as the foundation of the conservative personality Robin, ; Jost et al.
From scholars at the University of Michigan came the Normal Vote model Converse, : a now well-known and widely accepted portrait describing public ignorance of the major candidates and where they stood with respect to the predominant issues of the day. The Rational Choice account arrived shortly afterward from economics. In its initial formulation, rational choice held that voters engaged in a rational consideration of the alternatives presented to them, choosing that which best served their interests Downs Rational choice posits an attentive and thoughtful electorate that makes explicit comparisons and adjudicates among them through rational evaluation of their respective costs and benefits.
Unfortunately this model has a remarkable lack of empirical support Quattrone and Tversky Both conventional approaches find that the public does not satisfy the common normative standards held up for assessing the capacity of the public to serve as empowered citizens. If democracy requires an attentive and politically learned electorate and requires voters to give at least modest attention and thoughtful consideration to the policy and leadership choices before them, then neither account suffices. AIT argues that the Normal Vote Model and the Rational Choice Model have both gotten something right, but share a similar error by taking a special case of political judgment and treating it as if it were the general case.
How can it be that the Normal Vote and Rational Choice models are special cases, that is, theoretical specifications that apply only in some rather than in all circumstances? The two established theories presume that voters have invariant patterns of judgment and behavior. In the case of the Normal Vote account, voters are either partisan or not, and these immutable qualities fully control what people do, for example, whether they will pay attention partisans do, independents do not , when they decide for whom to vote partisans early in campaigns and nonpartisans late , and so forth.
Using the tag
Partisans have certain qualities and they consistently display them, just as nonpartisans display their characteristic qualities as we shall see, a similar case can be made for ideology as a stable defining quality. In the case of Rational Choice theory or its more recent variant, bounded rationality , voters think and act rationally all the time and in every circumstance so long as at least minimal stakes are in play. The orienting insight of Affective Intelligence Theory is that voters shift between different decision strategies, roughly along the lines suggested by the dual process understanding of human judgment.
When people feel they are in familiar circumstances, engaged in recurring previously learned habits, they will act as partisans voting their ideological and partisan predilections. However, when they feel themselves in novel, unfamiliar settings, they will abandon — at least temporarily — those convictions both implicit and explicit. Instead, feeling anxious, they will seek to learn more about the candidates and more about where they stand on the issues of the day. And, they will then vote based on what they learn Marcus and MacKuen, In sum, the theory of Affective Intelligence leads us to reject both the dystopic portrait of the ill-informed and irrational public and the more utopian aspiration for the full-time rational citizen.
Instead, we arrive at a more complex and a more dynamic understanding in which citizens display shapeshifting capacities, moving, on occasion from steadfast partisan determination to deliberate consideration freed from convictions Marcus, b.
An important corollary of this analysis is that, contrary to common belief, it is not the case that reason and emotions are in complete conflict. Fear of the uncertain is clearly an emotion and yet, according to AIT, it is involved in the engagement of a system 2 process Appraisal 3 in Figure 1. This shows that the ability to have emotions may be an essential part of the very ability to reason on this topic, see also influential work by Bechara and colleagues ; On the other hand, the AIT model also accounts for the role emotions play in non-deliberative system 1 processes, which are often related to the emotions of enthusiasm Appraisal 1 in Figure 1 and anger Appraisal 2 in Figure 1.
If AIT is on the right track, the reason-passion dichotomy is a coarse and inappropriate tool for making sense of political behavior, because it hides from view the complex role emotions pay in sometimes facilitating and sometimes hindering rational deliberation. The second conventional wisdom has to do with conservatism. A popular account in the academy puts fear at the center of why some adopt conservative views and values and others progressive or liberal views and values.
And, central to this line of inquiry are two fundamental points. The first is that understanding the liberal mind need be of little interest, reflecting the Enlightenment presumption that a liberal mind is now the new normal orientation that humans will and should adopt.
And, continuing, the conservative mind is thus viewed as retrograde Marcus, But it is the second point that is best understood as perplexing from the perspective of the Affective Intelligence Theory. Is it plausible, in light of the Affective Intelligence Theory that what draws people to conservatism is the emotion of fear? From the perspective of the theory of affective intelligence, fear seems an unlikely basis for conservatism.
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These emotions are driven by the unexpected, but the deliberative state that follows makes it unlikely that anxiety and fear drive support for conservatism. According to AIT, it is far more likely that the fundamental motivation for conservatism is anger. Anger arises when we face challenges to important norms that we find to be foundational to the social order. In other words, conservatives are not so much xenophobic afraid of foreigners as they are xenocholeric angry at foreigners. What we have found is that anger fuels support for conservative policies and voting for conservative candidates, whereas anxiety undermines support for such policies and candidates.
According to AIT, anger and anxiety will activate two distinct patterns of information processing. Heightened anger will make people use system 1 or intuitive judgments and make them reliant on their pre-existing convictions. Heightened anxiety will shift people to system 2, or deliberative reasoning and undermine the influence of pre-existing convictions.
And in a number of unpublished studies we find precisely that Vasilopoulos, et al, unpublished. As anger rises among conservatives, their convictions are strengthened. This happens because anxiety initiates a new judgment stance, that of deliberative reasoners interested in exploring collective action solutions that are not bound to or by our normally potent convictions. Hence, in the main, the role of anxiety fear has been mis-judged as the principal motivator for support for authoritarian policies and leaders Jost et al.
Conversely, the crucial role of anger has been underestimated. In sum, we anticipate that generalized public anger — whatever its the target may be — explains why so many electorates are turning to the right.
The turn to emotions, understood in the context of a dual process model of decision-making, has led us to new understandings of politics. Voters, as it turns out, are neither so partisan as posited by the Normal Vote model nor so free from irrational influences as posited by the Rational Choice model. They are complex creatures capable of both blind faith and rational assessment. This is why this new understanding is not utopian. Humans are still bedeviled by lack of foresight Hobbes, , but they can at least temporarily engage in evidence-based deliberation.
Affective Intelligence Theory, as a dual process model, offers an explanation of how humans, and likely other species, have adapted by having multiple available decision strategies. One the one hand, habituated processes are swiftly and deftly executed by reliance on the capabilities offered by neural systems that manage the familiar recurring tasks. But if that were the sole capacity available to humans we all would be vulnerable to anything that is unusual and unexpected. Hence, the importance of having a neural system dedicated to early identification and assessment of the magnitude of the novelty.
While complete foresight is not thereby obtained, heightened anxiety in the face of uncertainty alerts us to conditions that can benefit us from setting aside lessons that have most often served us well. That does not protect us against human fallibility. We may incorrectly understand the circumstances we face, acting as if circumstances are familiar when they are not or acting as it circumstances are uncertain when they are not. Nonetheless, having protean capacities would seem to give us greater adaptive flexibility.
Abelson, R. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42 4 , Achen, Christopher H.
Princeton University Press, Adorno, T. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Row. Aglioti, S. Current Biology, 5 6 , Albertson, B. Anxious politics : democratic citizenship in a threatening world. Bargh, J. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62 6 , The Unbearable Automaticity of Being.
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Passions and emotions nomos liii (nomos american society for polit…
Oxford: Oxford University Press. Emotion and Political Psychology. Huddy, J. Sears Eds.
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