Monday, November 29, 2010

What are we voting for?

Dutch national symbols
Some blogs ago I discussed that much of what I do is not steered by my conscious I but by my unconscious part, so by my zombie. My conscious I is often not more than an interpreter in my brain that tells me what the zombie has decided and my zombie is the actual steersman. But who steers my zombie? Or is it so that my zombie steers itself by an unconscious process of deliberation and reasoning that in the end decides what “I” want to do, actually not different from the way I would do it, when I would perform the process consciously?
Some distressing light on this question has been shed by experiments concerning political thought and behaviour by a group of Israeli researchers. The normative perspective suggests, they say, “that one’s political agenda should be driven by two factors: one’s ideology and the facts of the matter. These should form the input for an intentional reasoning process, wherein the goal is carefully thought-through political activity.” And indeed, psychological research has substantiated that one’s ideology and current events do influence political behaviour and thought, but in view of recent developments in cognitive psychology it is to be expected that unconscious processes play an important part as well. In order to investigate this the researchers tried to find out in a series of experiments whether subliminal presentation of national symbols influences one’s stance on political opinions and political behaviour. In these experiments the participants were confronted with several political issues. However, just before the presentation of the issues a national flag (which stood for the national symbol) was shown for such a short time that the participants were not aware of it. Both before and after the experiments the participants were asked their opinions on certain political themes. In one experiment the voting intention in coming elections was asked and then after the elections what they had really voted. All experiments showed the same result: On the average the participants had before the experiments more extreme views than after them. Therefore the researchers concluded: “the subliminal presentation of a national flag can bring about significant changes not only in a citizen’s expressed political opinions within an experimental setting but also in their ‘real-life’ overt political behavior”.
What makes this result so interesting for answering my question “who steers my zombie?” but also so worrying is not only that it tells us something about how we form our political opinions and behaviour but also that they can easily be manipulated by others, while we are not aware of it. This is the more worrying, while there is no reason to believe that such manipulation will move us only to the political centre. It is also possible, as the researchers point out, that priming of national symbols can activate extremist ideologies in those who have them already. In other words, what my zombie does for me unconsciously for me can easily be manipulated by not all too honest politicians. Then it may happen that we vote no longer for what we think right, for what we stand for, but simply for our national flag, rightly or wrongly.
Source http://www.pnas.org/content/104/50/19757.full . The quotations are also from this article.

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