Political Psychology comes to Latin America
Political Psychology comes to Latin America
One of the things that that I find most interesting about Political Psychology research is that its findings are not necessarily restricted to a particular country even if they occur in a distinctive political system; that is, when it come to politics, emotion and psychological traits are not necessarily bound by geography.
With this in mind and following ISPP’s intention of having a more diverse membership which includes representatives from every continent, Dr. Julio Júarez-Gámiz (UNAM), Dr. Rosario Aguilar (CIDE), and I decided to organize the first Political Psychology Conference in Mexico City last November 2015.
We applied to ISPP’s Small Grant Program and a few months later received a notification confirming funding to organize our Political Psychology Conference. We were very excited about bringing to Mexico City two distinguished guests, Prof. Christopher M. Federico (University of Minnesota), and Prof. Gabriel Lenz (University of California, Berkeley), additionally, we were able to offer some of the attendants a small reimbursement to help them cover some of their travel costs.
CIDE, our host for our two-day event, not only provided us with first-class facilities (e.g., translators, refreshments, auditorium, etc), but were kind enough to help us with the advertising and publicity campaign. This, together with Dr Juárez-Gámiz’ radio tours, prove to be fundamental to enjoy a hefty turnout.
We had a splendid time organising the conference, from selecting among the many high quality papers that we received to structuring the order of the talks, to moderating the lively debates. We knew it was going to be a good event but never anticipated just how much we were in for a real treat. Dr Aguilar acting not only as co-organiser but as our in-house foodie gave us a delicious tour of some of Mexico City’s eateries where our guests and participants were able to taste proper Mexican delicacies and wash it down with delectable beer. Prof. Federico and Prof. Lenz were both interesting and lively guests sharing stories and funny anecdotes.
But the Conference was not only about delicious food and joyful camaraderie, we were also able to share very enthralling and insightful experiments in political psychology. Beginning with a thought-provoking lecture by Prof. Lenz on why voters respond primarily to the election-year economy and their consequences. His findings, based on a combination of national surveys and experiments, show that when evaluating economic performance voters tend to focus roughly equally on the overall economic growth under each president and only put more weight on the most recent performance. However, given the influence of media and the government and how their reports of economic statistics tend to focus more on the most recent trends, voters then substitute the overall trend without even realising it thus concluding that if the president’s last term ended with a high growth the overall economic performance of said president was positive, and vice versa.
Throughout the two-day conference participants shared their research findings and engaged in lively debates, from the way in which cyber-protests are organically formed in Mexico (Luis C. Torres-Nabel, UPN) to an exploration of the contentious discourse in Mexican Elections (Dr. Salvador Vázquez del Mercado), to how make-up can make up an election (Magaly Palacios, CIDE). Daniel Zizumbo (CIDE) presented very interesting research on Threat, Emotions and Democratic Attitudes while Carol Chávez (UNAM) presented research on how symbols influence political communication processes. José A. Sánchez (CIDE) presented on public opinion and the armed forces in Latin America and Anna C. Baez (CIDE) gave a very interesting and relevant talk on authoritarian predispositions in Mexico.
It is also worth noting the special class in research methods that Prof. Federico gave were he presented us with an update on some relevant topics in Political Psychology, namely correlational versus causal hypotheses, survey/observational versus experimental research designs, survey methods, and experimental methods.
Along with organizing the conference, I presented my research based on terror management theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986) and the need for cognitive closure (NFC; Kruglanski, Webster, & Klem, 1993) on how abstract reminders of death, namely mortality salience (MS), would activate the facet of NFC that seeks group consensus and stability (as opposed to deviation and persuasion).The result of my three studies indicates that MS induced people high in NFC express greater support for politicians seeking consensus in the political centre, as opposed to politicians endorsing liberal or conservative ideologies, an effect consistent with research linking NFC to desires for group centrism and collective closure. Results revealed that participants high in NFC exposed to MS expressed significantly higher levels of support for parties moving from the extreme right to the centre, than for parties moving from the extreme left to the centre.
The conference ended with Prof. Federico’s keynote, “The Contingent, Constructed Nature of The Link Between Personality and Politics” addressing why do people’s political preferences lean to the left or two the right? His keynote was as insightful as it was interesting.
In summary, there are many interesting outcomes of organizing and attending an ISPP conference other than the annual meeting and summer school: presenting papers, developing a strong network, attending interesting presentations. I urge you to organize a Political Psychology conference in your own area, not only will it look good on your CV but you will have the full support of ISPP as we did and also learn a lot about the subject while you discover new paths to take on your research.
As more political psychologists organize such conferences, the discipline will grow stronger and more diverse and this is good news for all. I wish success to the upcoming Small Grants Conference, which will be held in New Delhi, India.
Dr Carlos A. Rivera is a teaching fellow at Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City) and a private consultant. For more information on Dr Rivera, please visit: www.psicologiapolitica.com.mx