Undecided voters not so undecided
According to this new study, we may have already made up our minds about things, even if we think we haven't.
These days, you can’t even trust undecided people. Individuals who honestly believe that they can’t choose between two available options may in fact already know what to do, thanks to attitudes that lurk outside their awareness, a new study indicates.
Rapid mental associations made by individuals who were undecided on a controversial political issue frequently predicted opinions these people later formed on that issue, psychologist Bertram Gawronski of Canada’s University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, and his colleagues report in the Aug. 22 Science.
“One could say that people sometimes have already made up their minds, even though they do not know it yet,” Gawronski says.
His team interviewed 129 residents of Vicenza, Italy, during the last two months of 2007 about the impending enlargement of a U.S. military base in their community, a polarizing issue at the time. Earlier this year, the Italian government approved the base expansion without holding a public vote.
In initial interviews, 32 residents favored the expansion and 64 opposed it. Another 33 participants said they were undecided. Everyone completed a 10-item questionnaire assessing their views on probable consequences of the proposed expansion.
Participants also took a computer-based test measuring automatic mental associations. First, they practiced pressing a left-hand key as quickly as possible when positive words, such as joy and lucky, appeared on the screen and a right-hand key as quickly as possible when negative words, such as awful and pain, appeared on the screen. Then they were instructed to press a left-hand key when they saw either images of the U.S. military base or positive words and to press a right-hand key only when they saw negative words.
In a third trial, participants pressed a left-hand key only for positive words and pressed a right-hand key for either images of the U.S. military base or negative words.
This seems to be pretty much the same technique in the Implicit Association Test hosted by Harvard, which can show that we actually believe and feel differently about things than we think we do, such as about age, race, gender, sexual preference, religion, etc.