Ian Anderson 2:30 p.m., Nov. 19
I still can't shake Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, especially on the eve of an election.
Early in the book he talks about "primers." These are triggers, usually but not always visual, that influence important decisions.
We assume, he says, that we vote based on a considered evaluation of candidates and their positions. But "studies show" - and every time he prefaces something with that remark, disturbing news follows - that "even the location of a polling place can effect the outcome."
A study of voting patterns in Arizona in 2000, he says, showed that propositions for funding education received many more votes when the polling place was at a school than when not. Also, images of classrooms and school lockers nearby "also increased the tendency of participants to support a school initiative. The effect was larger than the difference between parents and other voters!"
Okay; subliminals, which have been shot down since Wilson Brian Key wrote about them in the late-70s.
But, Kahneman says, consider: "Reminders of money produce some troubling effects. People given money primers - suggestions, images in the background - are "more selfish, less willing to spend time helping others."
"The idea of money primes individualism, a reluctance to be involved with others, to depend on others, or to accept demands from others."
People become anti-social - and anti-social change?
He cites the work of Kathleen Vohs: "her findings suggest that living in a culture that surrounds us with reminders of money may shape our behavior and our attitudes in ways that we do not know about and of which we may not be proud."
How many "I approve this ad" TV commercials have included money?
Kahneman also talks about a political candidate's "facial competence."
"Faces that exude competence combine a strong chin with a slight, confident-appearing smile. There is no evidence that these facial features actually predict how well politicians will perform in office. But studies of the brain's response to winning and losing candidates show that we are biologically predisposed to reject candidates who lack the attributes we value.
"The effect of facial competence on voting is about three times larger for information-poor, and TV-prone voters than for others."