Just how undecided are 'undecided voters?' New research published this week in the journal Science looks at 'automatic mental associations' and finds that they can be good predictors of the way an 'undecided' voter will likely finally vote. In the study, researchers looked at a group of 'undecided' people about to vote on whether a local military base should be allowed to expand. The prospective voters were shown a series of words, interspersed with images of the base, and asked to press a button whenever a positive or negative word was displayed. Measuring the times needed to respond to the words during the task gave an indication of whether the participant had a positive or negative mental association with the base -- and that association often aligned with the way the subject eventually ended up voting.
Such automatic associations can play a role beyond the polling booth, filtering incoming information and affecting our perceptions of the world around us, says Bertram Gawronski, one of the authors of the study. Issues such as racial and cultural bias are deeply connected to automatic mental associations. In this segment, Ira talks with Gawronski about the work and what it means.
Produced by Charles Bergquist, Director and Contributing Producer