Olivia Hanno ’16 and Rachael Smith ’15 recently traveled to San Diego, Calif., with Assistant Professor of Psychology Emily Fisher and Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman to present at the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP) annual meeting held July 3-6. Their presentation, “Political Attitudes and Participation: the Nuanced Role of Education,” was based on the group’s research focused on how college classes affect knowledge and attitudes about politics.
ISPP is an interdisciplinary organization representing all fields of inquiry concerned with exploring the relationships between political and psychological processes. This year’s conference, which drew scholars from across the globe, focused on the psychology of encounter and the politics of engagement.
“This conference was the first poster session I’ve done,” says Hanno, a double major in psychology and Spanish. “I think the session was most beneficial for me because it allowed my research team and I to engage in conversation with other psychologists about our project. I think this always has potential to make a project stronger because we can get helpful input from others on ways to improve and expand the project since it forces us to think critically about our work.”
The group’s presentation provided new insight into previous studies that suggest college-educated people tend to know more factual information about politics and have more “constrained” political attitudes – meaning they are more consistently liberal or conservative. Less-educated people tend to have less knowledge and attitudes that are more scattered around the ideological spectrum. The group sought to look into the factors that cause these disparities.
“Not many researchers have looked at what exactly happens in college to produce these effects, and there are several competing theories out there,” Fisher explains. “So we did a study that tracked students in introductory political science and psychology classes, and the idea was that the political science students would be learning directly, explicitly about politics, but the psychology students wouldn’t.”
To test the students’ knowledge, the researchers distributed a survey at the beginning and end of the semester with questions about their political knowledge, attitudes about political issues and other psychological variables that could relate to how motivated people are to learn in that regard.
After analyzing the data, the group found that on average, students in both classes had more political knowledge at the end of the semester than they did at the beginning. Although the political science students saw a greater increase, Fisher says that the main factors that predicted an increase in knowledge were “how interested in politics someone was, and how often they sought news about it.” Ultimately, this suggests that the types of people who are motivated to learn about politics are also the types of people who are more likely to pursue a college education.
“I think the results will be important to the education field because they show that education plays a differential role in the development of political knowledge and interest,” says Hanno, who plans to continue working with Fisher to develop a paper for publication on their findings.
Hanno will also be studying a sex education program that has been implemented in the rural highlands of Guatemala for her honors project. She’ll be traveling to Guatemala in August to gain a better understanding of the culture, the community, and how the program is run in order to ultimately track the progress of the program.
Smith also completed an honors project, “Song Preference and Context Dependency: The Effects on Memory,” which examined if being exposed to the music that one enjoys or dislikes during a cognitive task can either enhance or disrupt performance, as well as the effects of context dependency on performance.
The group’s poster will be on display in Gulick Hall throughout the summer.