A study published in the journal Political Psychology reports on “hot cognition”. The authors find that citizens instantly, in the milliseconds after being exposed to a political concept that they have previously been introduced to, feel a negative or positive affect. Their research posits that all political leaders, groups, issues, symbols and ideas that have been evaluated in the past become affectively charged (negatively or positively) to the point that the mere exposure to them brings a reaction that is appreciably faster than a conscious appraisal.

At the moment one realises that the letters B-U-S-H in a news headline refer to the president and not to a plant, one’s affect toward  Bush comes to mind along with his strongest cognitive associations? authors Milton Lodge and Charles S. Taber explain. The authors performed three experimental tests on undergraduate students in an introductory political science course. A “primed” word such as DEMOCRATS was flashed on a computer screen followed by a “target” word such as Cancer. The student subject had to decide if the second (target) word had a positive or negative connotation. The subject was not asked to judge on a relationship between the two words. Latency time from the onset of the target word to the subject’s response was measured. The averaged responses showed clear evidence of an automatic link in memory between an array of political concepts and a positive or negative charge. Once created, these links provide a ready-made guide to future behaviour.

  • Political Psychology, the journal of the International Society of Political Psychology, is dedicated to the analysis of the interrelationships between psychological and political processes.
  • Milton Lodge is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has been extensively published in both books and journals. Dr. Lodge is available for questions and interviews.
  • Charles S. Taber is also a professor in the Department of Political Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Political Judgment: Structure and Process

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