Ideology, Elections, and False Beliefs

Fall 2012


Class Information                                                     Instructor Information

PSYCH 3606/5606                                                     Dr. Helen C. Harton

Baker 315                                                                    Baker 357; 273-2235

W 6:30-9:20pm                                                           harton@uni.edu; www.uni.edu/harton


Office Hours: Wed. and Fri. 11-11:50, Wed. 2-3, and by appt.


Readings: There are two books for this course as well as a set of readings. All but a few of the readings are available online. Three chapters that aren’t can be copied from books on reserve in the library (Handbook of theories of social psychology, Volumes 1 and 2). The final reading not available online (Conway and Tetlock) will be sent out as a pdf.


Festinger, L., Riecken, H. W., & Schachter, S. (1956/2010). When prophesy fails. A social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world. London: Pinter & Martin. (foreward by E. Aronson).

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion.  New York: Pantheon Books.

Course Description: Now that you have a basic background in social psychology and research methods, this class is designed to increase your knowledge about social psychology, increase your ability to apply social psychology to your own life, and give you practice in designing and running your own research. In particular, we will explore the social psychology of ideology, elections, and false beliefs.

This class is not one of those that you can come to once in a while and get the notes from someone else; it will require work and responsibility on your part. It is important that you do all the readings on time, reading them not just cursorily, but critically. You will also be expected to be actively involved in class discussions. This is a seminar class, and productive class time demands prepared students who are willing to share their thoughts. In return for your work, you will gain

      1) a better understanding of the correlates and effects of ideology on personality, mental health, attitudes, and behaviors;

      2) a better understanding of why people believe what they do (even when it’s wrong);

      3) insight into factors that affect people’s ideologies and values;

      4) an appreciation of factors that influence voting outcomes;

      5 a better understanding of research methods and how to be a critical consumer of information, whether that information is coming from a journal article or the local newspaper;

      6) knowledge about how to conduct and present psychological research;


Plagiarism and cheating. Plagiarism (using another’s words without quotation marks or ideas without citation) and cheating (including but not limited to using an assignment from another class to fulfill or partially fulfill one in this class and getting help on examinations from other students or from notes or books) will result, at a minimum, in a 0 on that assignment. See “Academic Ethics Policies” in the Student Handbook for more information.

Course Requirements:

            Class discussion/questions                  25%                            

            Midterm exam                                     15%

            Final exam                                           15%                            

            Multimedia project                              15%

            Group project proposal                       15%                            

            Group project                                      15%


Class discussion. Active class discussion is essential to the functioning of the class. You are expected to contribute meaningfully to class discussions. While mere attendance is not enough to get a good grade for this component, it is imperative in that you can’t participate if you’re not here. Participation in class discussion (frequency and quality) counts 50% toward this component.

      Also included in the class discussion component will be the quality of discussion questions or points that you contribute each week. By noon on Tuesdays, you should email me three or four good discussion questions/points on the readings for that day (put “class questions” in the subject line). Questions should include some of your own opinions/thoughts in terms of why it is an interesting or important question. Discussion questions are worth 50% of your discussion grade.


      Discussion and discussion questions will be graded on the following scale:

            0 = not there

            2 = attended but didn’t participate, or turned in, but not very relevant (below average)

            3 = comments or questions relevant, but didn’t involve much insight (average)

            4 = comments or questions relevant and insightful (good)

            5 = more than one comment or question showed a significant contribution (excellent)


      Because I realize some weeks will be more hectic for you than others, you can drop two of your discussion grades. You could drop your two lowest class discussion grades (though only one absence, for whatever reason, will be dropped--missing more than one class will begin to hurt your grade), your two lowest discussion question grades (here you could just not send questions two times during the semester), or a combination of the two. There may also from time to time be other assignments that you should complete before class (e.g., complete a questionnaire, visit a website) that will contribute to your discussion grade.


Exams. There will be two essay exams in the class. Each will have 6-7 essay questions of which you will write on 4. These questions will cover information from the readings and class discussions throughout the semester. I will give you a longer list of questions from which all the essay questions will be drawn at least a week before the exam.


Multimedia project. For this assignment, you will choose a current ideological “hot button” topic (sign up at https://docs.google.com/a/uni.edu/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AvGm2QdOV41CdDBsNEpRc2hYaE9DajFFSXZmVnZxU1E#gid=0) and do a multimedia presentation (could be a video, or a powerpoint with subtitles or background sound, etc.) that will be posted on a private youtube or google channel so everyone in the class can see and comment on it. In the presentation (about 10 minutes), you should outline the arguments that liberals and conservatives (or whomever the “sides” are) give for their positions and analyze those in terms of the things you’ve been reading in class—why do they have different viewpoints? Is there information that they are ignoring or misinterpreting? Why? What is truth, and what is “false belief”? How do people see the “other side”? Are there ways to reconcile or come to a middle ground? For this assignment, you need to understand the arguments the sides give (get that information from news stories, websites, etc.), evaluate the “truth” of both sides (this will involve reading primary sources) and apply the information from class to further elucidate those arguments, their motivations, and how they fit with attitudes on other issues.


Group project. You will be doing a research project in this course. You can do the project alone or in small groups of 2 or 3. Your group will work together to design a study on some aspect of ideology, morality psychology, or political psychology, collect the data, analyze the data, and present the final product in class. The project needs to potentially advance our understanding of ideology, elections, or false beliefs, be situated in the literature, and be well designed and carried out. The project should be different from any paper or study you’ve previously written or research you’re involved in outside of class. All group members should be involved in all parts of the study (e.g., literature review, data collection, analysis, presentation).

      You will turn in an IRB form for your study (whether you need IRB review or not—it allows me to evaluate and approve the study). In the IRB form, you need to give expanded information for the first set of questions, including at least 5-7 references from scientific journal articles explaining how your study fits with previous research. You also need to have a clear and detailed method description.

      After you’ve had the proposal approved (by me and then by the IRB), you will run the study, analyze the results, and present it to the class (about a 15 minute Powerpoint presentation, with 5 minutes for questions). I highly recommend that you stay in close contact with me about your ideas and progress as the study goes on. I can also help you with the statistics and presentation of results.

      There will be very little time in class for group meetings, so you should plan to mainly meet outside of class. Your grade on these components will be partially determined by the project and partially determined by your group members' ratings of your contributions (if applicable). Basically, your group’s evaluations of you could raise or lower your personal grade from the group grade.


Class Schedule

August 22. Why do we hold false beliefs? Classic approaches


Lord, C. G., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2098-2109. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.37.11.2098


Heath, C., Bell, C., & Sternberg, E. (2001). Emotional selection in memes: The case of urban legends. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1028-1041. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.81.6.1028


*Come to class with an example of a belief that many people hold that’s false



August 29. Why do we hold false beliefs? Cognitive dissonance


Festinger et al. book: foreward and first 4 chapters


Cooper, J. (2012). Cognitive dissonance theory. In P. A. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology, Volume 1 (pp. 377-397). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


*Come to class with an example of cognitive dissonance (personal, or from the news) that’s not in the readings



September 5. How do people deal with their beliefs being threatened?


Festinger et al. book: last 4 chapters and epilogues


Greenberg, J., & Arndt, J. (2012). Terror management theory. In P. A. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology, Volume 1 (pp. 398-415). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


*Come to class with an example of a group whose beliefs or identity were threatened and how they responded



September 12. How do people get their ideologies?


Jost, J. T., & Amodio, D. M. (2012). Political ideology as motivated social cognition: Behavioral and neuroscientific evidence. Motivation and Emotion, 36, 55-64. doi:10.1007/s11031-011-9260-7


Hatemi, P. K., Funk, C. L., Medland, S. E., Maes, H. M., Silberg, J. L., Matin, N. G., et al. (2009). Genetic and environmental transmission of political attitudes over a life time. The Journal of Politics, 71, 1141-1156. doi:10.1017/S0022381609090938


Kandler, C., Wiebke, B., & Riemann, R. (2012). Left or right? Sources of political orientation: The roles of genetic factors, cultural transmission, assortative mating, and personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 633-645. doi:10.1037/a0025560



September 19. How do liberals and conservatives differ?


Jost, J. T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., & Sulloway, F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 339-375. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.339


Carney, D. R., Jost, J. T., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2008). The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: Personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind. Political Psychology, 29, 807-840. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2008.00668.x


Schlenker, B. R., Chambers, J. R., & Le, B. M. (2012). Conservatives are happier than liberals, but why? Political ideology, personality, and life satisfaction. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 127-146. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.12.009



September 26. Do liberals and conservatives think in different ways?


Federico, C. M., Deason, G., & Fisher, E. L. (2012). Ideological asymmetry in the relationship between epistemic motivation and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online posting. doi:10.1037/a0029063


Conway, L. G. III, Suedfeld, P., & Tetlock, P. E. (2001). Integrative complexity and political decisions that lead to war or peace. In D. J. Christie, R. V. Wagner, & D. D. N. Winter (Eds.), Peace, conflict, and violence: Peace psychology for the 21st century (pp. 66-75). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


*Proposal due



October 3. Do liberals and conservatives think about things in different ways?


Nail, P. R., Harton, H. C., & Decker, B. P. (2003). Political orientation and modern versus aversive racism: Tests of Dovidio and Gaertner’s integrated model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 754-770. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.754


Morgan, G. S., Mullen, E., & Skitka, L. J. (2010). When values and attributions collide: Liberals’ and conservatives’ values motivate attributions for alleged misdeeds. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1241-1254. doi: 10.1177/0146167210380605



October 10. Exam 1



October 17. Are we motivated to believe certain things?


Kahan, D. M., Braman, D., Cohen, G., Gastil, J., & Slovic, P. (2009). Who fears the HPV vaccine, who doesn't, and why? An experimental study of the mechanisms of cultural cognition. Law and Human Behavior, 34, 501-516. doi:10.1007/s10979-009-9201-0


Taber, C. S., Cann, D., & Kucsova, S. (2009). The motivated processing of political arguments. Political Behavior, 31, 137-155. doi: 10.1007/s11109-008-9075-8


Jost, J. T., & van der Toorn, J. (2012). System justification theory. In P. A. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology, Volume 2 (pp. 313-343). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.



October 24. How does morality fit in?


Haidt book: first 4 chapters


*Go to yourmorals.org and do the moral foundations questionnaire (before starting to read the book)


*Come to class with an example of a moral issue that seems to be automatic          



October 31. How does morality intersect with politics?


Haidt book:  next 4 chapters



November 7. Why do our moral beliefs lead to dissention?


Haidt book: last 4 chapters


Critiques and other views (*read and be prepared to discuss at least one critique or alternative explanation),



November 14. How does the media affect our beliefs?


Feldman, L. (2011). Partisan differences in opinionated news perceptions: A test of the hostile media effect. Political Behavior, 33, 407-432. doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9139-4


Study Finds Widespread Misperceptions on Iraq (click on link)

Hopkins, D. J., & Ladd, J. M. (2012). The Consequences of Broader Media Choice: Evidence from the Expansion of Fox News.

*Read another article on the media (including internet, blogs, etc.) and political attitudes or behavior and summarize it informally in class (be able to answer questions about it too)



November 21. No class (Thanksgiving break)



November 28. Automatic effects on voting behavior


Payne, B. K. Krosnick, J. A., Pasek, J., Lelkes, Y., Omair, A., & Tompson, T. (2010). Implicit and explicit prejudice in the 2008 American presidential election. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 367-374. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.11.001


Carter, T. J., Ferguson, M. J., & Hassin, R. R. (2011). A single exposure to the American flag shifts support toward Republicanism up to 8 months later. Psychological Science, 22, 1011-1028. doi:10.1177/0956797611414726


*Multimedia example due.



December 5. Exam 2



December 11. (6:30-8:30pm) Group presentations and discussion of multimedia examples (watch all of them before class and add comments online)