New study shows "undecideds" not impartial

May 01, 2012

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, political analysts are paying a lot of attention to the undecided. New research by a team of psychologists from Canada, Italy and Switzerland shows that undecideds are not impartial, but instead reveal a preference for information that confirms their gut reactions.

"Many people who are undecided about a political issue or competing candidates have at least some kind of gut reaction toward the available options," explains Bertram Gawronski, Canada Research Chair in Social Psychology at Western University. "Because it feels uncomfortable being exposed to information that questions one’s thoughts and preferences, undecideds search for information that confirms their gut reactions and avoid information that could question them."

The article "Selective Exposure in Decided and Undecided Individuals: Differential Relations to Automatic Associations and Conscious Beliefs," authored by Gawronski, Silvia Galdi, Luciano Arcuri, and Malte Friese, is published in the May issue of the journal Personality and Bulletin (http://psp.sagepub.com/content/38/5/559.abstract).

According to Gawronski, selective exposure to supportive information can determine future decisions at a time when people still feel that they have not made up their mind.

"People use whatever information they have to make a decision and they tend to believe that their decision is objective and unbiased. But they often don't realize that they have selectively exposed themselves to information that simply supports their gut response," says Gawronski.

To investigate information preferences in undecideds, Gawronski and his collaborators asked their participants about their personal views on a controversial political issue and then identified their spontaneous gut reactions, or "automatic associations," by means of a computer task that measured how quickly they responded to positive and negative words and pictures related to the political issue. Afterwards, the participants were given the opportunity to read several newspaper articles whose headlines indicated either a favorable or unfavorable view on the same issue. Although many participants told the researchers that they were undecided, they chose to read only those articles that were consistent with their gut reactions measured by the computer task.

The results provide further insights into earlier findings by the same research team, showing that future political choices of undecideds can be predicted by measuring their automatic associations. The findings suggested a new way for pollsters to determine how undecideds will vote, even before the voters know themselves. The new findings indicate that undecided voters selectively search for information that confirms their automatic associations, which ultimately determines their future voting decision.

According to Gawronski, the results also challenge a common view on how people make decisions.

"It is pretty rare that people take a neutral look at the available information and then make up their mind. In many cases, we already have a preference and then just try to find arguments that justify our preference," offers Gawronski.

Explore further: What I learned from debating science with trolls

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research shows pollsters how the undecided will vote

Aug 21, 2008

As the American Presidential election approaches, pollsters are scrambling to predict who will win. A study by a team of researchers at The University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the University of Padova, Italy, may give ...

Research discovers why first impressions are so persistent

Jan 18, 2011

New research by a team of psychologists from Canada, Belgium, and the United States shows there is more than a literal truth to the saying that 'you never get a second chance to make a first impression'. The findings suggest ...

Recommended for you

Freedom and responsibility of science

4 hours ago

Yesterday, the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Leopoldina National Academy of Sciences presented their recommendations for "The Freedom and Responsibility of Science" in Berlin. Both research organizations appeal ...

What I learned from debating science with trolls

Aug 20, 2014

I often like to discuss science online and I'm also rather partial to topics that promote lively discussion, such as climate change, crime statistics and (perhaps surprisingly) the big bang. This inevitably ...

Activists urge EU to scrap science advisor job

Aug 19, 2014

Nine major charities urged the European Commission on Tuesday to scrap a science advisor position it says puts too much power over sensitive policy into the hands of one person.

More to a skilled ear in music

Aug 15, 2014

The first pilot study in Australia to give musicians the skills and training to critically assess music by what they hear rather than what they see begins this month at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.The study aims to ...

User comments : 0