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Memory and voting: neuropsychological and electrophysiological investigations of voters remembering political events

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Title: Memory and voting: neuropsychological and electrophysiological investigations of voters remembering political events
Author(s): Coronel, Jason
Director of Research: Kuklinski, James H.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Kuklinski, James H.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Federmeier, Kara D.; Cohen, Neal J.; Gonsalves, Brian D.; Gaines, Brian J.; Rudolph, Thomas R.
Department / Program: Political Science
Discipline: Political Science
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): memory voting political behavior cognitive neuroscience
Abstract: The studies in this dissertation address two fundamental questions in public opinion research: what kinds of campaign information do voters retrieve from memory and how do they use this information to make political choices? The first study examines a prominent claim in public opinion that states that citizens can vote for candidates whose issue positions best reflect their own beliefs even when they cannot remember previously learned stances associated with the candidates. I use a unique and powerful methodology to examine this claim by determining whether individuals with profound amnesia, whose severe memory impairments prevent them from remembering specific issue information associated with any particular candidate, can vote for candidates whose issue positions come closest to their own political views. The results suggest that amnesic patients, despite not being able to remember any issue information, consistently voted for candidates with favored political positions. Thus, sound voting decisions do not require recall or recognition of previously learned associations between candidates and their issue positions. In the second study, I examine a well-documented phenomenon wherein voters misattribute issue positions to candidates, which are consistent with the candidate’s partisan affiliation, even though such candidates have never explicitly stated such positions. The dominant explanation in political science is that voters misattribute candidates’ issue positions because they use their political knowledge to make educated but incorrect guesses. I challenge this view and suggest that voter errors can stem from a very different source: false memories. The study examines event-related potential (ERP) responses to both misattributed and accurately remembered candidate issue information. The results suggest that ERP responses to misattributed information elicited memory signals similar to that of correctly remembered old information, a pattern which favors a false memory rather than educated guessing interpretation of these misattributions. Thus, voter misinformation about candidates may be harder to correct than previously thought. The studies I present here provide part of an initial foundation for understanding the role of memory and its interaction with the informational environment during political decision making. They also show the promise of using conceptual and methodological tools from cognitive neuroscience to answer fundamental questions about the nature of citizen decision making in democratic governance.
Issue Date: 2012-09-18
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/34475
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Jason Coronel
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-09-18
Date Deposited: 2012-08
 

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