International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Imagining Politics: How Individual Differences in Imagination Shapes Public Opinion Formation

Michael Bang Petersen, University of Aarhus; Lene Aaroe, Department of Political Science, University of Aarhus

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: University of Aarhus
Research Area: Political decision making

We argue that citizens compensate for the scarcity of information in mass politics by recruiting cognitive systems designed for the internal generation of stimuli; or, in simpler terms, by use of imagination. We test this argument in the context of two nationally representative surveys of Danish and US citizens using both survey experiments and correlational analysis. Here, we provide cross-national evidence for the assertion that personality differences in imagination (cf. the IPIP inventory) influence how and how easily citizens form political attitudes. As test case we focus on the issue of social welfare. Empirically, we demonstrate that imaginative individuals hold more extreme opinions on social welfare and that this effects occurs through two pathways: First, imagination regulates how easily individuals can spontaneously generate associations about the deservingness of social welfare recipients in situations of cue scarcity. Hence, imaginative individuals list more associations about social welfare recipients in free recall tasks and are more strongly guided by their priors when reacting to thin descriptions of specific social welfare recipients. Second, imagination regulates how vividly individuals experience the available cues and associations. Hence, the emotional reactions of imaginative individuals are more strongly guided by morally-relevant associations about social welfare recipients and imaginative individuals react more strongly to morally-relevant cues in thick descriptions of specific social welfare recipients.