Conference To Examine the Political Unconscious and the 2012 Election


How will Americans' unconscious attitudes toward African-Americans impact the 2012 election? That's one of many questions that will be addressed at a University of Virginia conference on “The Political Unconscious and the 2012 Election,” to be held Sept. 7, from 10 a.m. to noon, in Garrett Hall’s Great Room.

The conference will feature political scientist Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University and psychology professor Tony Greenwald of the University of Washington, two “giants in their respective fields,” said Paul Freedman, associate professor of politics and a member of U.Va.’s Political Psychology Working Group, which organized the conference.

Bartels is the co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and May Werthan Shayne Chair of Public Policy and Social Science at Vanderbilt. His research focuses on American democracy, including public opinion, electoral politics, public policy and representation. His most recent book, “Unequal Democracy,” was cited by President Obama on the campaign trail and appeared on David Leonhardt’s list of “economics books of the year” in the New York Times; it also won the Gladys M. Kammerer Award for the year’s best book on U.S. national policy.

Greenwald provoked modern attention to the psychological self with his 1980 article, “The Totalitarian Ego.” He has made substantial methodological and theoretical contributions to the study of unconscious cognition and subliminal perception. He co-developed the Implicit Association Test with Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard University psychology professor, and Brian Nosek, a U.Va. associate professor of psychology. The test has enabled observation of unconscious attitudes (including one’s own) and has revamped understanding of stereotyping and prejudice

The conference is sponsored by U.Va.'s Page-Barbour and Richard Lecture Series, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Following the public conference, Bartels and Greenwald will meet with a half-dozen U.Va. graduate students in politics, economics and psychology who were recently awarded funding for political psychology research projects focused on the 2012 election. The visiting professors will help the students refine their research plans, Freedman said.

This is the first conference organized by U.Va.'s Political Psychology Working Group, created in 2010, said group member Nick Winter, an associate professor of politics. The group was created to bring together faculty and graduate students from U.Va.’s departments of politics, psychology and media studies who study the links among political minds, political events and political institutions. U.Va.’s particular areas of strength include implicit political cognition, race and gender, morality and ideology, citizen competence and democratic theory.

The group will also break new ground this fall with Winter teaching a new graduate-level political psychology seminar and creating a virtual Political Cognition Laboratory that will enable Web-based surveys and psychological experiments.#

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