10 Mar 2017 - Laura Cram: Seminar
What can an interdisciplinary Neuropolitics approach add to our understanding of public attitudes, behaviours and decision-processes?
The neuropolitics research lab (NRlabs) seeks to get ‘under the hood’ of public attitudes, behaviours and decision-processes by drawing on techniques and methods from cognitive neuroscience, social psychology and informatics. Using fMRI brain scanning, behavioural games, physiological monitoring, eye-tracking, psychological measures and big data analysis, we explore the, often non-conscious, influences and processes that affect political attitudes, behaviours and decisions. Traditionally public opinion is measured in a top-down manner, using large-scale cross-sectional surveys. By asking set questions, surveys inevitably shape the pattern of the responses given and are able only to capture ‘expressed’ responses to those questions. We focus instead on ‘observed’, ‘revealed’ or more spontaneous bottom-up measures and on how these relate in practice to the ‘expressed’ attitudes recorded in surveys. In this paper I will introduce some of our work on: (i) how group identities and implicit identity triggers relate to individuals’ attitudes to the experiences and behaviours of others; (ii) on how context, content and delivery format impact on our responses to audio-visual materials on contemporary political issues; and (iii) on how cognitive framing on political events takes place in the social media environment. I discuss the challenges and opportunities that this type of interdisciplinary research in an emerging field presents and hope to explore possible future directions and potential collaboration opportunities between the information sciences and the social and political sciences.
Laura Cram is Professor of European Politics and Director of NRlabs Neuropolitics Research at the University of Edinburgh. She acted as Special Advisor to the Scottish Parliament, European and External Relations Committee, on the Inquiry into the Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on Scotland. She has published widely on the governance of the European Union and held a Senior Fellowship on the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe programme during the Brexit referendum. Laura has particular interest in the neuropolitics of identity and the neuropolitics of public policy. Her work explores the insights that cognitive neuroscience and political psychology can offer into contemporary debates on EU membership. Her lab uses experimental approaches, including fMRI brain scanning, survey experiments, behavioural games, face-emotion coding, eye-tracking and physiological hormone testing to examine the meaning and effect of multiple identities in multi-level polities such as the UK and the EU. Throughout the EU referendum debate her lab monitored the ongoing Twitter debate and developed an interactive Twitter tracker for use by the public and policy-makers.