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Political affect: An investigation of visual behavior and political attitudes

Eric Hughes Shanks, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation addresses relationships between affect and political orientation. My analyses were driven by observations of attentions over visual fields that were contextualized by the implication of sadness and by visual perceptions of a contradicting sentence in the field of vision. After an extensive review of literature, my investigative approach considered data from independent factors including; several self-reported political attitudes (i.e. support for government downsizing) and several physical variables (e.g. vertical or horizontal eye movements and differences in pupil area sizes). I also incorporated altruistic attitudes (e.g. support for government social programs and support for government-based and non-government-based charities). My dependent variables were three political orientations; conservative, moderate and liberal. I then compared the frequencies of participant's eye movements over the controlled fields of vision. Each visual field used in these tests contained a sad face and a contradicting sentence. I discovered differences in changes of pupil size during views of the faces. Although the participant population appeared to be overwhelmingly politically conservative, the comparatively moderate subjects exhibited a more active ocular motor response while at times also demonstrating seemingly atypical conservative viewpoints. My findings indicated that visual behaviors can be assessed as components of political attitudes. Consequently, I surmised that the differences in visual responses were probably associated with political orientation. The implications of my research infer that emotions allow a person to perceptually engage matters of social and political consequence using essentially the same bio-physical processes. I argue that although political preferences may abide by political orientation, the physical experiences in reaching one's political goal point are unique.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Political science|Physiological psychology

Recommended Citation

Shanks, Eric Hughes, "Political affect: An investigation of visual behavior and political attitudes" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3685478.