What’s Your Bias? The Surprising Science of Why We Vote the Way We Do

DATE: 18:00 – 19:00, 24th October 2017

VENUE:  The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

Dr. Lee de-Wit, Author of Whats Your Bias? Psychologist and Neuroscientist

Dr Lee de-Wit: (inaudible) the bias’ that we bring to the political process, the slightly cheesy subtitle of the surprising science of why we vote the way we do. Well, I think that a lot of the science is quite surprising. This is also very personal. There’s a science there, but this is very much about how we vote, and how we make our decisions.

I have decided for this lecture, I’m going to try to storm through and cherry pick what I think is the most interesting thing from each of the chapters from the book.

Start out with, the political animal. I’ll start out with a question related to that. Do you think your genes can influence how you vote? I’d quite like to take a straw poll actually. Who thinks yes, and who thinks no? Interesting, quite divided there. In my experience most people think that genes can’t influence the way you vote. But actually there’s quite a lot of evidence that they can. This started back in the 1970s looking at twin studies in the US, and has actually been replicated in almost every twin study cohort, that has been studied since. This is one of the most influential ones, published in 2005, which looks at a cohort in the US, and in Australia. And what they do is they look at political views on a range of issues, and they look at how high the correlation for those views is amongst monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins. So twins who either have exactly the same DNA, or twins who have different DNA. Now critically, these twins are raised separately. So, these are not twins being raised in the same home. What you can see is that, for basically every political attitude you can imagine. The correlation is higher amongst twins who have identical DNA, than twins who have different DNA. So, we’re pretty confident that there’s something about your genetics that influences your political attitude on a whole range of issues. And I think that’s a really important starting point for thinking about the political animal. That our politics is rooted in who we are as a biological species.

Now, we know the genes code for RNA and RNE, and codes for proteins, and these proteins will form the neurotransmitters and neurons, or help construct those in our brains. But how on earth we get from coding of proteins to differences in political attitudes? This is a massive explanatory gap in psychology at the moment. It’s similar to many explanatory gaps, there’s lots of sort of phenomena in psychology right now. When we know there’s an inheritable component to it, but we don’t actually know yet how the genes are influencing people’s behaviour. One of the reasons for that is because there certainly does not seem to be a gene for being anti-immigration, or a gene for being left-wing, or a gene for being right wing. It seems to be that you have to have a complex combination of different genes across the genome. And that’s why it makes sense that you see this with the twins, because the twins have exactly the same DNA as each other.

So, part of how we approach politics is rooted in who we are as a biological animal. And there’s a lot of evidence from psychology to suggest that one of the areas where this is really significant is in our moral reasoning, our thinking about morality. And that’s what we look at in the first chapter, and there’s something very strange to think of as, morality being something that’s rooted in some way in our biology. We think of morality as a sort of cultural construct, a cultural phenomenon. But one of the reasons which we’re confident that morality is something that, sort of has, an evolutionary back-story, because it’s something that we also see in other social animals. So, other social animals also have a receptivity to issues that we would recognise as issues of morality or fairness. There’s some lovely research on this in a paper from nature from a few years ago. I can nicely illustrate this with a YouTube video. Ok so, the experimenter is getting this monkey to play a game, or do this little task, where she gives them a stone, and they have to fetch the stone and give it back. And then, as a reward for doing the little game, this monkey gets a grape. This other monkey does the same task. This monkey gets a bit of celery, that’s no good. Now what’s interesting about this is, it’s not that the monkey doesn’t like celery, the monkey will quite happily work for celery, when there’s no other monkey’s getting grapes around. But when, the monkeys are performing the same task and the monkey perceives this sort of inequality, the monkey gets unhappy about it. You see this in other social species also. So, I think this a really sort of important of part of our evolutionary back story in terms of the development of morality.

This is something in particular that Jonathan Haidt, whose written a book called the Righteous Mind, which I also highly recommend if you’re interested in understanding the psychological biases that we bring to the political process. He’s an American liberal social psychology professor, who for a long time has been concerned with, or interested in, why the Democratic party do so badly in the US (United States),when to, you know to liberal academic professors, it’s obvious that you should vote Democrat. And he has a sort of quite provocative statement that he says about this, that if you think that half of America votes badly because they are stupid or religious, you are trapped in a matrix, take the red pill, this is a quote related to the film, if you haven’t seen it, it won’t make sense. But anyway, learn some moral psychology, step outside the moral matrix. Now this term the matrix pertains to this idea that we all construct our own version of reality, everything that we experience, we can only experience by virtue of the fact that our brain enables us to do so. And your brain is different to mine and those individual differences will shape our world views separately, differently. If you’re not convinced that you live in a matrix, where we might see the world differently, you can have a look at this dress. So, who, out of interest, sees black and blue? Cool, who sees it as white and gold? White and gold tends to be less frequent. Who can switch? Yeah, so that’s interesting. For lots of these sort of ambiguous percepts, people can switch. This is a really nice interesting one where people can’t. I used this to illustrate the way in which our perception of reality is constructed. And, so it’s constructed all the way down to our perception of colour. So, if our perception of colour is constructed in a way that is shaped by our individual differences. Imagine something as complex as morality.

Question from audience: are you saying that there are some people who actually see, a complete (sic), those stripes not as…?

Dr Lee de-Wit: what do you see them as? There’s people in the room who see them as white and gold.

Audience member who asked question: yeah, and I see them as blue and brown but, or gold, but are you saying that other people can see absolutely different colours?

Dr Lee de-Wit: yeah

Other audience member: it took me ages but now that I know that there is two colours, I can sort of flip between them.

Dr Lee de-Wit: Yeah. So one of the reasons, I like this is because its immediate presentation is, sort of, so incomprehensible that someone could see it differently. And I think that’s a really good intuition to start thinking about why on earth is someone voting for Trump, or what on earth is making them want to support him, and realise how difficult it is for us to take the perspective of others. So, Haidt’s argument, he argues that even though evolution has, sort of, shaped us to bring a range of sort of moral sensibilities to our political decision making. And he argues, as I have intimated already that, moral foundations are innate. But he means that in a particular sense that, he means that they are organised in advance of experience, a bit like language, you know. A child is born in the world not knowing how to speak Chinese or English, but they’re born with the apparatus to learn that language. So it is not that we are born knowing right or wrong, but we are born with a sort of acute moral sensitivity. That can operate amongst a range of sort of priorities. And Haidt argues that, a lot of academia focuses on the idea that morality is about fairness and harm.

But actually he thinks that people’s morality is, in its intuitive sense, and the way that it’s shaped by evolution, is also very much concerned with issues of loyalty, authority and sanctity. Now, he has a whole sort of argument as to why these different dimensions of morality have evolved, which I won’t go in to. The interesting thing for us here is that, if you look at these different potential dimensions to morality, so fairness whether or not people are treated differently to others, or loyalty where someone did something to betray his or her group, or authority where someone showed a lack of respect for higher authority. What Haidt has found in several studies, and these are large surveys of several thousands of people. That people on the left tend to prioritise issues of fairness and harm, where they consider fairness. But the people on the right tend to have more emphasise on the importance of things like loyalty, authority and sanctity. A good example of sanctity is the sort of, political example, would be burning the American flag, that’s a sort of violation of sanctity. But he argues for a whole range of different components of people’s lives, people on the right have a higher sensitivity to violations of sort of, standards of purity and purity and decency. I have a graph of some of his data here, I’m not going to go into the evidence for this but I’m happy to explain that more in questions. But what I do want to emphasise here is what’s interesting, and really important about Haidt’s work here is that for lots of these questions, he’s not asking people politically loaded questions. So for example, a question that would differentiate nicely between liberals and conservatives in the US is, how bad do you think it is to publically bet against your favourite sports team? Say that lots of people now about this. People for conservatives, they regard this as a sort of real violation. For liberals, they are sort of less concerned with this issue. So, this is an example where it’s not about, it’s not just loyalty in sort of a political context. It’s a broader moral sensitivity regarding loyalty that seems to differ between the left and the right. (inaudible) and this is a real blind spot on the left, and I think this makes a lot of sense personally, you know when you look back and see, Hillary Clinton deriding American voting citizens as a basket of deplorables if they want to support Trump. Or why this phrase, make America great again, obviously spoke quite pertinently to a lot of people, yet also obviously leaves a lot of other people flat. I think Haidt’s moral foundation theory is a really useful framework for understanding some of the intuitive differences in our morality, that helps shape our broader political view. I think this is definitely evident in the US as well, I think there’s, you know, famously controversial tweet from Emily Thornberry is a good illustration of the way in which people on the left, you know, don’t really understand displays of group loyalty.

Ok, next thing I’m going to look at is the role of personality in politics. And again, this pertains to, sort of relatively well established in political psychology, at least in the US and the UK, there’s a relationship between how you identify politically and your personality profile. Now psychologists, one of the main ways in which we characterise people’s personalities is in terms of the big five personality profile. So, these big five is conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, stability, and extroversion. Now also on this graph you see income and education level here, they are just sort of there for a benchmark comparison, to see this is how much education predicts being liberal in the US, and this is how much income predicts conservative. You see that some of the personality differences between being liberal and being conservative are really quite large. Now, there’s three different graphs here for overall ideology, economic policy, and social policy. But for all of those the result is sort of consistent. The people on the right tend to be higher in, what psychologists refer to as, conscientiousness in their personality profile. And people on the left tend to be higher on this dimension of openness. And this probably isn’t that surprising actually, that this sort of relates to the personality profile of people on the left and the right. Of course, what’s particularly interesting is that in the last couple of years, starting with some research by people at Cambridge, we started being able to work out people’s personality profile just by looking at their activity on social media. So these researchers found that, if you’d made over 300 likes on Facebook. That this algorithm was able to guess the big five personality profile better than your wife could. So this is research by Cambridge university, and this research is thought to underlie some of the profiling done by Cambridge Analytica. So, if you’ve heard about this, they’ve trumpeted this big story about them helping the Trump campaign and the Brexit campaign to profile voters on social media, to better target voters who are going to be more receptive to one party’s political message or another. So, you know, it starts out as this sort of academic thing of, you know, these differences in our personality profile. But this is serious stuff in terms of, the fact that, (sic) we can identify this stuff from people’s activity on social media, potentially used to target and profile voters.

Ok, next chapter is why you always think you’re right. And this looks at a range of, what we call a cocktail of bias’, that our cognition brings to all decision making really, but we explore how it plays out in political context. So, there’s some concepts here that I’m sure you’ll be familiar with, you know, the conformation bias, the fact that we have an inclination to search out evidence which is consistent with our own existing view. Cognitive dissonance, is a really interesting bias, where we basically don’t want to admit to be wrong. And if we have made a decision in a particular way it then becomes much harder for us to change that, or retract that decision. I’m going to talk about though, the bias brought about by social identity. And I’m going to do that because actually, Charles Brandreth really helpfully explains this bias.

Charles Brandreth (on video): I’ve gone to Guildford, capital of the Home Counties, armed with a list of policies and pronouncements. They’re all those of Jeremy Corbyn, but I’m keeping quiet about that for the time being, because I’m looking for secret socialists. Can I find any closet reds among the blue rinses? Would you like to see university fees scrapped and replaced with maintenance grants?

Woman on video being asked a question: yes.

Charles Brandreth: you would!? Would you like to see university fees scrapped and replaced with…?

Another woman on video: Yes!

Charles Brandreth: very good, very good. Would you support a fully funded NHS integrated with social care (inaudible)?

Man and woman on video: Yes.

Charles Brandreth: would you like to see private rents linked with average earning levels?

Man on video: Yes.

Charles Brandreth: Good. Are you in favour of restoring the 50% tax rate on incomes over £140,000?

Woman on video: good heavens yes.

Another woman: definitely.

Charles Brandreth: Good. Four answers there which reveal to me that you are a secret socialist.

Woman: No!

Charles Brandreth: Yes. Those policies, are policies advocated by (pause) Jeremy Corbyn.

Woman: goodness me.

Charles Brandreth: what do you make of that?

Woman: terrible.

(laughs from audience)

Charles Brandreth: you are, in fact madam, a secret socialist because you have just been espousing the policies of this man.

Woman: No, no sorry.

Charles Brandreth: We have now uncovered a secret socialist in the streets of Guildford (inaudible) You know because there are not many of you people.

(laughs from audience)

Dr Lee de-Wit: Ok so, wonderfully cute, provocative video there from Charles Brandreth. But actually, it accords with a lot of social psychology about the way in which, once we’ve identified with a particular group. Actually, you know, a lot of other reasoning that might otherwise take place gets shortcut, and we adopt things which are consistent with our existing group identity.  So, Charles Brandreth wasn’t a (sic), I don’t know what his sampling strategy was, and I don’t know how representative those people were of the sample as a whole. But it’s very consistent with some research from Jeffery Cohen from Yale from a few years ago. Which the title quite clearly explains is party over policy, and what he did in this experiment is presented people with a policy about a particular welfare reform. And first of all he just started out asking Democrats and Republicans, what do you think of this welfare reform? And they fell out along ideological lines. The Democrats tended to prefer if it was more generous, the Republicans preferred it if it was more stingy, so to say. But what he then did was, he had a separate group of Democrats and Republicans, who he presented exactly the same policies to them, but first of all he said “this is all democratic, this is the policy of the Democrats to change welfare reform. This is the policy of the Republican party to change welfare reform.” And suddenly, people’s responses to the policies were actually dominated by their group preference.  So, if they’re a member of the Republican Party, suddenly this welfare reform, if it’s phrased as Republican policy, becomes more appealing or less appealing than if phrased as a Democrat policy. What’s really nice about this is that both groups of participants denied being influenced by this. They said “No I’m not interested in the fact that you told me that this is, you know, a policy of this party.” But they both also thought that members of the other party would be bias by that information. (laughs)

Ok, next chapter is we’ve called what’s in a face. Actually, there’s a quite lot of surprising research about the influence of the faces of politicians, and the way that that influence the way in which we vote the way we do. I should probably clarify this point that, just five minutes left? (laughs). That I’m really focusing here on what voters do, not so much what politicians do. One thing that we keep finding, is that it seems that voters seem to like voting for faces that look competent. Who think this chap looks the more competent of the two? Who thinks this chap looks the most competent? Ok, not a huge difference. But, in general when we ask people these judgements, there’s a druid consistency around people’s competency judgements.  So, most people will think this guy looks more competent, and indeed that predicts whether he’s likely to get elected or not. So, just by getting people to look at the faces, you can guess who’s more likely to win an election. I’ve put a load of references here because, this is just an astonishing finding, because it just keeps getting replicated. One of the illustrations of this is really nice, predicting an election is child’s play, and the reason they say that is because they do this experiment with five year olds. It’s a bit hard to ask a five year old who is the most competent, but you can ask a five year old, at least they do in this experiment, who would you want to be the captain of your boat? What they find is that, the person the kids prefer to the captain of their boat, low and behold, turns out to be the candidate who is most likely to get elected. Now, this sometimes works in schools, but I doubt if it’ll work here. Does anyone not recognise these two? (laughs) Yeah ok. So, you know this is one of the most famous examples where this difference in visual appearance is thought to have influenced an election result between Kennedy and Nixon. You know maybe it’s had an impact on some British elections too.

Ok, making headlines. So, this title is very much about the media, and how the media can sort of shape our political views. It’s more focused on the bias’ that human psychology bring to that. But in a way really, I mean one of the most important ones, is that, of course, we don’t have access as individuals to some objective truth about what’s important out there in the world. We rely on the media to sort of help us understand the range of priorities that are out there. So, there’s a longstanding debate and discussion about does the media sort of accurately reflect what’s important to the people. Or does what the people think is important get shaped and dictated by what’s presented in the media. So, this is a really nice study, from quite a few years ago now, providing some experimental evidence that causality really can run in one particular direction. And that is that, what you see in the media can influence the priorities that you have.  So, what they did in this experiment is they got a group of participants, and they doctored the news that they were watching. So that in their 6 o’clock news, they added a load of stories about defence. And after a couple of weeks, after seeing all these added stories about defence in their news. These people started rating defence as one of the most important political issues for them. They then replicated and extended this to, they then sort of had (sic) three different groups of participants, one of whom they added stories about air pollution, one of whom they added stories about inflation, one of whom they added stories about defence, and in each case people who saw additional stories about that issue, raised the sense in that they said that was a political priority for them.

Ok, faking it. So this chapter is, on one level about fake news, I tried to reflect more generally about the nature of reliable evidence, and particularly, there’s a sort of replication crisis in psychology, and in lots of fields of science at the moment. Lots of science that we thought was reliable is proving to sort of not be as reliable as we thought, also, how science is communicated. Often we blame the media for this. But actually there’s a really interesting study showing that when the media exaggerates something, it’s often because the university press office has already exaggerated it. One of the reasons we’re in this space for fake news susceptibility at the moment is the way in which academia generates evidence and communicates evidence is not reliable enough. A lot of this chapter is reflecting philosophically about that. But I thought I’d also pull out an example of this, it illustrates something broader about people’s political biases.This is a study, very recent study, looking at people’s susceptibility to fake news stories. They present people with a load of potentially correct or incorrect statements, such as kale contains a toxic metal. What they found was that people who are more socially conservative were more likely to believe some of these negative stories. Fake news about negative things seems to be more easily believed by people of a social conservative persuasion. And that’s really interesting because it fits with some other findings in political psychology, that people who are more socially conservative are a little bit more threat sensitive and more likely to pay attention to negative stimuli.

Are you being nudged? So, with the Nobel Prize for (Richard) Thaler a couple of weeks ago, you should probably be familiar with the concept of nudging. The idea that there are subtle changes to your environment that can be made to nudge you into behaving in a particular way. The most famous of these was the fly in the toilet in Amsterdam that encourages males to urinate in a more cleanly direction. There’s a whole plethora of ways in which our voting behaviour can be nudged and influenced. One which I thought would be interesting here is, because it relates to the targeting by Cambridge Analytica as to whether you can persuade people to vote in particular ways online. There’s lots we don’t know about that. But one thing we do know because of an experiment that Facebook ran in 2012, what they did is on Election Day they showed people two different messages on their newsfeed, they either presented them with a message saying, you can click this button to say I voted today or your presented with this button to say you can click this button to say I voted today, and you see a load of your friends who have also clicked this button. What they found is that, the comparison between these two messages is that if you saw the social message you were more likely to turn out and vote. They estimated that this increased turnout at this election by 60,000 votes. What they also learnt is that this was really effective if the people you saw were close friends. So, if they targeted this better to have this shared seeing people here who are close friends, this effect could have been much stronger.

These last couple of examples should be quicker, but there’s one last demo that I’d really like you to do. I apologise, I normally do this with undergraduates, not members of the House of Lords. I’d like you to point to the top most dot on the screen, latch your finger, and point to one of the dots and follow it round. And now with your hand, change direction. What I like about this is that, it’s very hard to get people to point, and then to stop pointing. I use this as an illustration of the way in which our brain can be very rewarded, when it perceives itself to be in control of something. So, I think perceived control is a really important aspect of how the brain works. There’s a lot of psychology evidence, that it’s important in schools, in the workplace, its important across social class. So interestingly people are happier if they’re in a higher wealth social class. If you’re in a low social class but a high sense of perceived control, you can be as happy as someone in a high social class. This seems to be really important in politics too. So this is quite a complicated study, but it reviews political systems around the world. And argues that systems with proportional representation have on average higher levels of turn out. This high level of turnout is very well predicted by increases in people’s sense of, what they call people’s sense of ethicacy, in the political process. So if they ask people in first past the post systems vs proportional representation systems, do you have a sense of control over your political system? People in proportional representation systems are more likely to say they have a sense of perceived control. Now, what’s interesting is that this is significant if you support a small party, which makes perfect sense.  So, if you support the Greens or UKIP in the UK, you know the benefit of being in proportional representation, and the increased sense of political ethicacy is obvious. There’s lots of ways in which we can nudge people in to encouraging people to vote. In a way the more interesting question is why fundamentally don’t so many people vote? Understanding the importance of perceived control is important to understand there. It’s something that you can’t help but notice that it’s a very salient message in a lot of prominent political campaigns. Trump’s ‘I’m going to build a wall’, a very definitive statement about how he’s taking control of a situation.

Finally, the last chapter of the book. I was a bit worried in writing the book that, at the time of Trump and Brexit, that this book could have been seen as a manifesto against democracy, with this litany of different ways in which we are biased in the way in which we approach the political process. Personally, I don’t see it like that, I want to emphasise the opposite. In fact, democracy functions quite well despite all these biases that we bring to it. What do we conceive as progress? Maybe by learning about these biases, we can think better about how our political systems could be structured to mitigate them. What I want to emphasise is about how little we educate people about the political process works. I’m sure lots of you know that the Hansard Society do this audit of political engagement every year, and sometimes they ask people quiz questions. They quiz people for three years in the past. Do you think British members of European Parliament are directly elected by British voters? Do we elect our MEPs? Well, we do. We vote on that. But lots people seem to think that we don’t. I don’t think we do enough about measuring how much people know about how the political system works. If we’re thinking about how we would improve education to make people better democratic citizens, we also need to do is educate ourselves about the biases we bring to the political process. So, I think conformation bias. The fact that you’re going to look for evidence consistent with your existing point of view. That’s something you easily could do every year in school, where you give kids an exercise where you look for information for something. And then you check, oh did you mainly check for information consistent with that. Nowadays, kids are going out and having to learn things for themselves. I think we should be more focused on educating them more about the biases that they are bringing to the political processes.

I tweeted a link to my slides so, as a scientist I am quite keen that you can follow up on the studies that I’ve referenced or watch Charles Brandreth’s clip in Guildford again. There was a bit of a storm there through various political topics, in a way that’s what I wanted to achieve with this book. There are other books on political psychology out there that focuses on a narrow subsection of the ways in which our psychology influences our politics. I very much wanted to give a large overview, in the ways in which our psychology can influence how we vote. I’m done, thank you.

Question 1: Obviously, we’ve seen huge strides with big data in terms of understanding voting patterns, and voting behaviour. Do you think if you were to make a projection over the coming decades that this is going to make assessments more likely, or more accurate, or less accurate? Because, one would have thought with more information, and more awareness, that we would have more predictable polling, and yet you see, in terms of pollsters getting election results wrong. I’ll just take one of your examples, the Clinton Campaign. Very very heavily investing in the big data, and how to target individual voters, yet retrospectively missing an obvious trend. Which is that you have a candidate talking about loss of manufacturing jobs, and ending up winning the presidency by winning manufacturing states in which Clinton didn’t even visit. How do you explain both the progress that’s being made on the research side, and yet seemingly the failure of some political campaigns to be more accurate in their outreach?

Dr Lee de-Wit: I think one of the big issues in polling is that the way you access a representative sample of the population has become increasingly more complicated. It used to be relatively straightforward that, you could call people and that would ensure that you would access a representative sample of the population. One of the big challenges with getting reliable polling is just getting those reliable samples. Lots of the things we are learning in the psychology of politics and how those influence the way in which we vote. They are only just starting to filter through into political science, and what political campaigns do. So, the profiling that Cambridge Analytica were doing based on people’s psychological profile, and how that predicts how they vote.  I think that’s one of the first real world uses of our psychological biases in relation to how they influence how we vote. So, the British election study, for example, now asks people about their big five personality profile. So, slowly some of these measures we use in psychology are becoming more standard in political science. I think if you were to introduce things like Haidt’s moral foundation theory, the way in which Haidt measures the importance of fairness for you, or the thing with loyalty. I think those would add a lot of explanatory powers, potential predictors.

Question 2: I’m automatically fascinated by the international implications (inaudible). I was struck when Haidt’s book came out, and in the review he stressed that people who were weird, (inaudible) rich and democratic, were systematically different from most of their values. So, that seems to have fairly important and rather disturbing implications for international affairs. Should we expect to see very divergent attitudes to very difficult questions about diluting state security or state sovereignty amongst the weird compared to the rest of the world?

Dr Lee de-Wit: Well, I would say the opposite. The weird group are the ones who have less of a sensitivity to group loyalty. In a way that’s part of how Haidt started doing this research, he did a sort of internship in India. He started to recognise that his world view was very much constrained by these ideas of offence and harm to the individual. In other terminology, Haidt refers to these as the individualising foundation. So, fairness and harm, and what he calls the binding foundation. So, the things that bring us together as a group so, the authority and the loyalty. He found it when in India was that by getting involved in that culture, he had an understanding of loyalty and respect for authority that he could understand in India, in ways he hadn’t in the US. Then when he went back and started listening to what the Republican Party was saying, and how that was so appealing to a lot of the West, and the American population. He understand that the moral values of fairness and harm for the Western educated, and industrial developed people, is narrowing their understanding of why things like loyalty and national identity are so important to other people.

Question 3: So, as some of these countries get wealthier, and move to some of the weird, is that going to reduce the divergence or is it expected to grow?

Dr Lee de-Wit: I think that would be a prediction of Haidt’s model. Whether it’s just increases in wealth per se, or whether it’s a particular model of education which emphasises individual liberty and individual rights. There’s a lot about these big cultural interactions of how we are educating ourselves about what we are, and how that is shaping our morality. We’d just be speculating about. That’s why it’s important that Haidt says, although these things are innate. They’re like tastes, we come to the world with these sensitivities, but actually what the world tells us, and how we’re educated by the world will shape which of these moral sensitivities are most important. A really interesting question there. Haidt says that we come to the world with this range of moral foundations, but just because we’re evolved to come to the world with these foundations, does that mean that they’re all still useful? Some people argue, that although Haidt calls authority, loyalty, sanctity binding foundations. Actually when you look at people who prioritise those foundations, they often tend to be people who are more likely to be racist for example. Do we still make a judgement about whether these moral values are useful to use?

Question 4: I’ve got two questions, one is really in the form of a joke, but the other one is also a question. I’m glad that you started with the introduction of Haidt, and connected to what I happen to have a knowledge about, in a later chapter of yours, not only does ones judgement of a face of a politician effect how one might vote. But also, the politician’s height in comparison to his opponent, has a small impact on how people will vote. The question is now in many elections in Western democracies coming that we will have a woman standing against a man, and women are usually shorter. What are your reflections on that? Second question is that, you spoke about research down at Cambridge and then you talked about Cambridge Analytica. Can you clarify for us please whether Cambridge Analytica is nothing to do with the University of Cambridge, or Harvard in America?

Dr Lee de-Wit: Yes, it has no official relationship to the University of Cambridge. There’s some backstory about they may have bought some of their data from the psychometric centre at the university. But there’s no official relationship between the university, and Cambridge Analytica. (inaudible) I mean officially, the university has no relationship to Cambridge Analytica. About the women, I must admit I don’t know because most of these studies they will compare a man with a man, to make the studies easier. I honestly don’t know what will happen across those comparisons.

Question 5: with regards to individuals, you talked about their face and how they’re perceived. Presuming demeanour is a part of this. I remember when Trump was surging in late 2015, early 2016 and trying to explain to people that most of the reason people were familiar with this man was from the apprentice. His very tough, commanding presence, who fires someone in a show of authority at the end of every episode. As you see now, more and more celebrities are mulling getting involved in politics. But there seems to be a certain cache in personal familiarity. Which goes with what we are talking about of party and policy, now maybe now more on an individual level. I know this person, I trust them therefore I trust what they say, politically.

Dr Lee de-Wit: That’s one of the things I talk about in chapter five about making the headlines. One of the really interesting things about preference is one of the biggest things that shapes our preferences is familiarity. So, the more familiar we are with something, the more we prefer it. There’s something called the mere exposure effect. Where if you are repeatedly exposed to a fact, that you might be unsure about its validity, the more times you see it, the more likely you are to believe that the fact is true. 350 million might spring to mind. I think that famous people can cash in on that familiarity benefit. There is still something weird, and fascinating about the fact that the lineages, the Bushs, the Clintons, the Kennedys. I’m only speculating, but why is that still the case. Is it that culturally for thousands of years, that we’ve been used to monarchies or that the biological dynasty holds some sort of sway. Or is it just that the pure familiarity implicit preference? It seems to be a cross cultural thing. In India you have, the Ghandis, and other families. About the visual charisma, something which I’m very interested in with regards to the Kennedy Nixon debate. Which was really interesting, because at the time people who watched the debate thought Kennedy did better compared to people who listened to the debate. This was hotly contested for a long time, maybe this was a self-selecting sample. Maybe the people who watched it on TV were always likely to think that Kennedy won. It wasn’t until two decades ago, that finally a political scientist thought that we could actually do an experiment on this. He randomly assigned people to watch it on TV, and people to listen to it on a radio. Indeed, he replicated this original finding that people who watched it think that Kennedy is more likely to have won. When you watch the videos, there are lots of clues you can pick up from that than on the radio. There’s research now that just by looking at someone’s face you can tell who won the election. If you look at that debate, Kennedy is just more confident. Was it just his face that looked more confident, or was it his visual charisma and confidence?

Audience member: Kennedy had professional make-up, and Nixon suddenly realised that they ought to send a staff member down the street to buy something from the Pharmacy.

Question 6: Insofar as you are focusing on bias’, is there a point for those of us who are trying to get to know ourselves to be able to vote, do you have a sort of sense to the point where we can tap in and say well I’ll never get rid of my bias’, but at least I’m reasonably sure that I’m voting responsibly. Do you have any advice on that?

Dr Lee de-Wit: So, one thing that political scientists are quite interested in is that they try and measure as correct voting. They have a very particular definition of that. They look at which policies you support, and then see whether your choice of political party is consistent with those. That’s quite comparable to these vote match things, vote for policies apps. Where you can say, I’m a bit in favour of this policy, I don’t like that policy so much, I like this policy. Then, it will tell you afterwards. Well, you predominately support the policy platform of the Conservative party or the Labour party. I’m quite sceptical about those platforms to be honest. Because I think that they’re a source of information. If you want to get more information about how accurately your vote reflects the policy positions of the party’s, it’s a reasonable thing to do. But, the people that make those apps have to make difficult choices about which policies to emphasise, and how to way them in your judgements.

Question 7: so how would you know that you’ve voted responsibly?

Dr Lee de-Wit: The most important thing to acknowledge is that, we all do bring biases to the process. If you don’t think you bring bias to the process, that’s probably the most problematic bias to bring to it. Rick Bailey, gives a guest lecture on my course. And he speaks about the ways in which he asks his journalists to reflect upon the potential biases that they might have, and the influences that, that might bring to the way in which they might report. When I saw my personality profile, I thought about how that relates to how I vote.  It made perfect sense to me, and it made sense to me why some people might not naturally support the policies that I do. Looking at your big give personality profile, these things can give you a slightly more objective sense to what your biases are, which influence the way you vote. The Cambridge Psychometric centre by the way, if you go on their website. If you load in your Facebook and your Twitter, if you have them, it will try and guess your personality profile based on your social media.

Question 8: two of the things that you haven’t mentioned, that might be outside your scope are the family you grow up in, and how you change as you get older. (Inaudible)

Question 9: You mention Richard Bailer, whose key finding was that the brain hates hassle so to speak, it likes easy quick decisions. Is it even possible to remove biases?

Question 10: Is there any research on whether the stress in society, how that influences left and right?

Dr Lee de-Wit: There is some evidence that under increased stress or threat, people tend to shift toward the right, in their moral profile. There’s even a study suggesting that people start preferring more competent looking leaders under higher induced threat. In terms of we ever can mitigate our biases, maybe social psychology, economics are at a bit of a disagreement. Economics tends to approach things more with the mind-set that they’re doing physics, studying objective immutable laws about how human nature works. Just because we identify a bias do not think that it means that it’s fundamentally intrinsic to human nature, and there’s nothing we can do. Particularly conformation bias, if we spent much more time in school constantly doing exercises. We could have it drilled into us that this is a bias that we bring to our decision making.

In terms of the effects of aging, aging I find quite difficult. There’s research looking at longitude and patterns of personality, and how that changes. It does tend to change to some extent, like people’s politics can change as they grow older. But exactly the data that I would like on how they relate to each other, I haven’t found. About the family influence, if I asked you all does family effect how you vote? Nearly all of you would have said yes. But actually we probably have more evidence that genes influence how you vote, rather than family influencing the way you vote. In most circumstances, these things are confounded because you will grow up being raised by parents with whom you share a lot of genes. So, if you end up having a similar political attitude, it might be because share similar genes, not that they have raised you in a certain way. When there was this first wave of political psychology in the 1950s, there was this idea then that Adorno, who had this idea of strict parenting. There was this particular strain of right wing authoritarianism that was a consequence of a particular parental model. I think maybe there’s a percent or so, or a variant in political attitudes that seem to be related to parental style. Particularly attachment style. Actually, the evidence isn’t as conclusive as one might expect. One obvious criticism of the twins study is that if you’re an identical twin, even if you’re raised separately, maybe you’re good looking, maybe you have a genetically determined higher IQ.  So, maybe there are aspects of your personality that mean your parents are going to treat you differently. Then it’s those things about the way your parents treat you differently, that leads to you having a different political attitude. But lots of studies have looked for shared environmental factors, are there things that we can measure about the homes of shared identical twins that are similar. Do any of these things then predict political attitudes? In fact, these shared environment factors don’t seem to predict very much. But maybe we don’t know how to properly measure them yet.

Question 11: I wondered if you’d done any research into the bias of political parties, and I would illustrate this with one concept. There’s one major party in this country which currently forms the government, and it had on Election Day 47 members of that government were members of the Privy Council. To become a member of the Privy Council has to swear an oath of allegiance, and it is astounding of those 47, 46 of those took the oath of allegiance. And here’s a political party, which has got rid of bias against women, people who are coloured, and homosexuals. But, has retained a massive bias in favour of, or against, non-believers. Have you looked into this?

Dr Lee de-Wit: One of the reasons I focus less on politicians themselves is just because there’s less of them, and it’s harder to get them to fill out questionnaires. There’s lots more voters so getting them to fill out a big five personality profile, and getting them to do a moral foundation theory questionnaire. I would be quite surprised that for most parties if they didn’t to some extent reflect the values of the people who vote for them. Part of that is because, Emily Thornberry for example, her intuitions about in group loyalty not being  a thing for her, is in accord with a lot of other Labour voters, not all, which probably helps explain why they’ve lost a lot of votes to Ukip. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was quite a conference between that, and there’s a study that came out this year. Showing that if you phrase an argument based on different moral foundations. So, if you try to persuade a Trump voter not to vote for Trump based on arguments of fairness and harm, its not very effective. If you try to persuade a Trump voter not to vote for Trump, based on loyalty, actually that was a much bigger effect. The natural appeal of a politician to their voters is probably predicated on their similar sense of moral intuition and personality. When I give lectures on this personality profile being higher on this level of consciousness, I quite like playing the video of David Cameron saying to Corbyn, “what would my mother say to you? To put on a suit and tie, and sing the national anthem.” It’s a very different, direct communication of live up to conventions, be conventional.

Question 12: I was just going to ask if you’ve done any research on a group of people who aren’t bias, and accept their bias and believe that their bias is good. I was thinking people on the absolute extreme right, or the extreme left. I think the extreme right is clearer. You would examine their personality, and ask why would somebody be like that? Why should somebody vote that way for that reason? Why are they that extreme?

Question 13: I don’t know if this is going slightly off topic, I was curious when you were talking about genetics and voting. If there’s a genetic link between political disengagement, I’ve commonly found people who would be classed as quite well educated, they’re not politically engaged or aware of what’s going on, the opinion is maybe uninformed.

Question 14: In terms of being nudged, I would argue that I have been nudged more than the average person. I have studied politics and at A Level, and that is pretty left of centre syllabus. I’ve also studied politics at university, I would argue that the student population in general is left of centre at least. However, I have gone from being a pretty strong Labour supporter to now being pretty much, not really sure about that. Would you argue that nudging sometimes that can work the other way?

Dr Lee de-Wit: Interetsing. Actually there is something interesting I could have said which you just reminded me of. Which is that the correlation between identical twins becomes higher as they get older. So, at 18 the correlation is less high than at 28. It might be that as you get older, it becomes clearer to you, what’s important to you in a way that’s shaped by your biology. I want to make a side point here about this bias in different academic disciplines if you know Haidt, he goes on about a lot particularly among subjects like psychology, there’s a massive left wing bias amongst it. My view is that it’s a massive problem for how are we going to have a genuine understanding of both sides if everyone studying it, is basically from that persuasion. There’s lots about the psychology of politics that I think you can see are not well dressed up attempts to dress up what is wrong with right wing people. About the extremism, that’s sort of qualitative interview stuff, is not stuff I do. Something interesting in relation in the US, often in studies they’ll ask people to identify themselves on a liberal-conservative axis. What they sometimes find is, that when you test somebody’s association with a political party implicitly. There’s a particular way of testing that, with the implicit association test. Which is another way to identify your biases actually, if you google it. You can look at if you associate black people with negative words, or homosexuals as a negative word. It’s an interesting way of looking at the implicit associations, that you’re mind has built up. They can implicitly measure how much you identify with being liberal or conservative. Sometimes when you measure it implicitly, it gives slightly better predictors, than when you measure it explicitly. This whole shy Tory thing, there’s an extent to which people are ashamed to admit that they have extremely conservative views. On the genetics of voting, that’s one of the things that twins share. If you’re identical twin is very likely to vote, then you’re identical twin is vote also. There was a paper a few years ago, arguing that they’ve pinned it down to a specific allele in genes. So in general, there isn’t a gene for a thing. However, a study hasn’t been to attempt to replicate those findings from the study. There does seem to be a genetic component of that.

Thanks so much. Thank you for the questions.


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