the influence of irrelevant cues
Old 03-21-2010, 11:25 AM   #1 (permalink)

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Default the influence of irrelevant cues

good article from the globe this weekend.

the most recent, jarring evidence of our collective idiocy is an Ekos poll released this week that reports Canadians prefer the "macho, emotional image" of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the intellectual image of Michael Ignatieff. We also insist – and when I saw we, I mean the majority of voters in the country, the majority of whom are men between the ages of 45 and 65 – that we like to leave emotion out of politics. We think, therefore We. Are. Canadian.

Our national delusion is that we are somehow steadier-headed than the rest of the world. On a planet beset by complications, we prefer a leader who pretends there are none. As a matching crock to the impression Mr. Harper gives that he's never wrong, 86 per cent of Canadians believe their political decisions are based entirely on reason. "Men over 45 seem to think we live on Vulcan, that we're all like Spock," Frank Graves, the Ekos pollster, told me. "And there's a bit of Klingon, too, because we think courage is the most important trait in a politician."

Alas, this bombastic lack of self-awareness has produced the debased political swamp in which we all now dwell. The country is at war and aging baby boomers seek out paternalistic politicians who claim no doubts as to the course we must take. But we don't have to lie to ourselves and pretend our politics are rational.

Because they aren't. The crime rate in Canada has been declining for 10 years. The bulk of the federal government's legislative agenda revolves around getting tough on crime. Is that rational? No.

Is it rational that Ottawa decided to take on the issue of women's health in developing countries but refused (until forced to back down) to address contraception, when uncontrolled childbirth is the decisive factor in women's well-being globally? No, again.

But those are the irrational policies of the leader preferred by a majority of Canadians, who make political choices on an entirely rational basis. One wants to call the logic Kafkaesque, but Jerry-Lewis-like seems more appropriate.
In another experiment, researchers doctored photographs of George W. Bush and John Kerry enough that they were unrecognizable as themselves. The pictures were flashed side by side, and onlookers were asked to judge their competence to lead the U.S. in times of war and peace. Three quarters chose Mr. Bush for war; more than 60 per cent chose Mr. Kerry for peace.

Everyone thought the Bush-ish face was more masculine and dominant, and less intelligent and forgiving. The unconscious never met a cliché it didn't like (which explains Fox News).

Deep down, with Canada sending young men to die in a war, Mr. Harper's affectless Dough Boy face may register as tough and necessarily unsentimental. But that's not reason.
Moshe Bar, a scientist at Harvard, has traced these gut reactions to the amygdala, the most ancient and primitive bulb in the brain. Back when we were all wearing leaves and living on the forest floor, it was an advantage to be able to tell who and what one could trust, as fast as possible. Nowadays it just makes you Jason Kenney.

But leadership in the modern world requires more than just a fight or flight – or, at least, it ought to.

"People would like to believe that complicated judgments are a result of the careful consideration of relevant information," Prof. Todorov writes in The Political Psychology of Democratic Citizenship, published last year. But "even though they may often not realize it, people have little, if any, access to or control over their quick first impressions, emotions and attitudes" – what the scientists refer to as "mental contamination."

He concludes "it is nearly impossible to avoid these influences, but the societal costs of not addressing these issues are too great."

How do we address them, especially when political operatives will do anything to prey on our primal fears? In the experiments, one variable always stymies instinctual, autonomic, thought-free reactions: more information. "Voters may not have the capacity to ignore the influence of irrelevant cues," Prof. Todorov insists, "but they have the power to increase their exposure to other sources of information."

Stephen Harper knows that – hence his legendary control over his party's message, and his recent fondness for communicating via YouTube. If I were 25 and wanted to do my country a favour, I'd stop showing my old man how to program his video camera.
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Old 03-21-2010, 02:48 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I've never considered Harper to be either macho or emotional, the guy is a reptile (but I guess anyone appears macho when their only real competition is Stephane Dion).

I agree with the author's assessment of the Canadian national psyche. Despite being one myself, I have always thought that the white Canadian is probably one of the smuggest variety of people on the planet (and I guess that I think I know that makes me smug...fuck!).

My tips for a perfect election:
-candidates are required to wear a paper bag over their heads and are not allowed to show any skin at all.
-any physical differences between the candidates such as height, weight, shoe size etc. may not be known.
-candidaties complete many written and practical tests to assess their suitability as Canada's next PM. The results of these tests are made public to Canadians.
-candidates must only speak to the issues and refrain from mentioning anything relating to their personal, cultural, or religious background.

The result:
Canadians vote for the best person for the job! (Who when the paper bag is finally removed turns out to be a black, transgender individual with parkinsons who is sporting a head of dyed purple hair, a big hitler stache, and one of those Che Guivera t-shirts you see everywhere. The new PM is later revealed to have been born jewish but later became a born again scientologist a few days after his/her/it's second abortion.)
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