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Data Driven Approaches to Political Attitudes

One of the focuses of the lab is the application of data driven tools to understand the structure of political attitudes. Above is an illustration of this adapting k-means clustering to provide a measure of the "strength" of issue polarization across domains of issues. Another area of work in this space includes the development of Agent Based Models, that attempt to simulate the individual and system level factors that might shape the structure of political attitudes. 

Example publication: Lewis, G. J., & de-Wit, L. (2019). How many ways to say goodbye? The latent class structure and psychological correlates of European Union sentiment in a large sample of UK adults. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 7(1), 556-576.

The MHP UK Polarization Tracker

The lab helps to run the UK MHP Polarization Tracker, which has been tracking issue and affective polarization (and its potential causes and consequences) every six months since 2020. The graph above illustrates the trend for support amongst people who identify as left or right wing across a range of issues. As part of this project our analysis has identified a cluster of the population who can be described as "super distrusters" (see report from MHP), who are interestingly spread across the political spectrum. As part of this work we also identified large "within party affective polarization" effects within parties in the UK, which we subsequently replicated in the US

Example publication: Young, D. J., & de‐Wit, L. H. (2024). Affective polarization within parties. Political Psychology. 00: 1-12. 

The World Templeton Charity Foundation: Perceptions of Source Dependance and Polarization

In collaboration with Jens Madsen at LSE, the lab runs a World Templeton Charity Foundation project exploring the role of perceptions of source dependence in polarization. This project seeks to test for the role that perceptions of source dependence (for example that "elites are all working together") plays in polarizing political attitudes. 

Example conference presentation: Young, D. J, Madsen, J. K, & de-Wit. (2024) Bayesian Belief Polarization due to Differential Perceptions of Source Independence. Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. 

Message Framing and Experimental Studies

A critical test of psychological theories in political psychology is whether or not they shift political perceptions or political attitudes. A core focus of the lab is therefore the use of methods in experimental psychology to test whether theoretical approaches to political psychology can be translated into experiments. This line of work includes a focus on presenting better visualizations of the overlap in political attitudes across the political spectrum, and assessing how that impacts perceptions of polarization. Another line of work focuses on using concepts like Moral Foundation Theory, or using a deeper understanding of value structures like Authoritarianism to frame persuasive messages. 

Example publication: Buchanan, T., Ackland, J., Lloyd, S., van der Linden, S., & De-Wit, L. (2022). Clear consensus among international public for government action at COP26: patriotic and public health frames produce marginal gains in support. Climatic Change, 170(3), 24.

Theoretical Work

Having originally worked in visual neuropsychology and visual neuroscience, the lab PI (Lee de-Wit), has a broad interest topics across the psychological sciences, and has previously written about the theoretical importance of understanding what is meant by the term information to interpret evidence from neuroimaging, and written about the role of essentialist thinking in holding back theorizing across the psychological sciences. Most recently the lab has published work with Jens Madsen and collaborators questioning the assumptions that sometimes underpin the application of behavioural science to public policy, and arguing that behavioural science should start with a default assumption that people are reasonable, not irrational. 

Example publication: Madsen, J. K., de-Wit, L., Ayton, P., Brick, C., de-Moliere, L., & Groom, C. J. (2024). Behavioral science should start by assuming people are reasonable. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. (in press)

Collaborations with the El Erian Institute for Behavioural Economics and Policy

The lab has close collaborations with close collaborations with the El Erian Institute for Behavioural Economics and Policy, with two shared PhD projects. One of these is looking at the perception of public opinion by elite decision makers in relation to climate policy, and the other is looking at the relationship between political polarization, and political consumption. 





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