The people voting in Tuesday’s election probably have an idea of who they’re voting for. But the question people can ask themselves is about where they got the information that influenced their political decisions.
Frank Conner, head of the Psychology Department, said when there were only a few channels, the media had to be more middle-of-the-road, but now, people can be influenced in completely different ways based on where the information comes from.
“If you have a belief, you never have to hear something you don’t believe,” Conner said. “You can find something that simply parrots your belief.”
He said the biggest influence on people’s beliefs is their communities, and since people are grouping animals, they tend not to deviate from their group’s norms.
“Most people are still highly influenced by their community,” Conner said. “If you don’t know how to decide, then you look to the community around you. Most people are Republican because Mom and Dad were Republican.”
He said this is the reason why most people watch a debate or take in information with a confirmation bias, which means that someone will look for information that confirms their beliefs.
“It makes your position more extreme because it connects you with a community,” Conner said.
Conner’s belief that community is a very strong influence was confirmed by a classroom study done by interpersonal communications instructor Mary Kronkowski. Her class was divided into three groups, one that only listened to a presidential debate, one that watched and listened, and one that did not watch or listen but only gathered information from outside media sources including news outlets, Facebook, and friends and family.
Kronkowski found that the group who watched and listened had no concrete opinions about who “won” or “lost” the debate, but the group that only got information from outside sources had strong feelings about who “won” or “lost,” as well as about events in the debate itself.
Kronkowski said that to only rely on others’ stances inhibits an important journey in the process of education: critical thinking.
“It’s (taking someone else’s stance) another step towards non-thinking and having the media or other sources give me my meaning,” she said.
Conner said that emotions are second to community in influence on people’s opinions, so it is important to be careful which media sources are used for information.
Most political ads are filled with emotional images, emotional language,” Conner said.
He said these ads will try to captivate people enough to vote for a certain person.
“The last election was around corporate corruption and the economy,” he said. “Obama was viewed as a savior. It was a hope campaign.”
However, the ads may portray messages about promises that are not quite possible to keep.
“It didn’t matter who he was. The economy was in such dire straits, you could only improve it a little bit,” Conner said. “While that was a good message, it was impossible to win. He was really set up for emotional failure.”
With days left until the election, Conner says people should get their information from reliable, unbiased sources such as the League of Women Voters, and they should keep open minds about the candidates.
“Know your hot buttons,” Conner said. “Don’t let them dictate your thinking. Just because we disagree on one issue doesn’t mean we can’t agree on the others. Look at all the issues of the candidate.”