4 November 2012

Go Green!

Filed under: Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:16 am

In a recent blog post, Jennifer Stuart provided a link to this NYTimes article about the unconscious priming of conscious decisions. It’s been demonstrated experimentally, for example, that strangers who bump into you are more likely to judge you as a “cold” person, unsociable and selfish, if you’re holding an iced latte in your hand than if you’re holding a cup of hot coffee. The author of the article explains:

Psychologists say that “priming” people in this way is not some form of hypnotism, or even subliminal seduction; rather, it’s a demonstration of how everyday sights, smells and sounds can selectively activate goals or motives that people already have. More fundamentally, the new studies reveal a subconscious brain that is far more active, purposeful and independent than previously known.

Here’s a possible example of unconscious priming that I experienced yesterday. I graduated from Michigan State University, and while I never thought much of the school and didn’t really enjoy my time there, for some reason I have continued to follow its basketball and football teams. Yesterday the MSU Spartans were playing the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in a televised football game. Michigan State, underperforming all season, was hanging onto a precarious lead against the nationally-ranked Nebraska team. As the clock ticked down toward the end of the fourth quarter I heard a knock. You can imagine my irritation when, upon opening the door, I saw two strangers holding clipboards standing there. As I think back on it now, I don’t recall either of them holding any sort of beverage. “I’m watching the game,” I volunteered in order to ward off whatever spiel they intended to sling at me. “Sorry,” one of them said; “are you voting for Obama?” Canvassers. “No,” I replied; I’m voting Green.” Smiling cordially, the two thanked me and walked away.

Now it’s true that I had been leaning toward the Green Party despite the fact that I can’t even remember the name of their presidential candidate. On the other hand, confronted with the dead certainty that the Green candidate will lose the election combined with the Democrats’ traditional lesser-of-two-evils argument, I’ve persistently thought that I ought to “make my vote count” by choosing Obama despite my disappointment with his right-leaning politics. Now, in revealing my decision to the Obama canvassers, I had revealed it also to myself: no to Obama, yes to Green.

But why had my decision suddenly crystallized? I was irritated by the interruption in my game-watching: was I venting my irritation on the interrupters’ candidate? And Green: might my statement of support have been primed by the fact that the MIchigan State football team’s colors are green and white? “Go Green! Go White!” That’s the traditional cheer that erupts periodically from the crowded Spartan Stadium, a cheer that I’d no doubt heard several times while watching the game.

I closed the door on the two canvassers and resumed my spot in front of the TV. MSU would go on to lose the football game when Nebraska scored a touchdown with 6 seconds remaining. Will my irritation with the green team now override my irritation with the canvassers, resulting in my switching back to Obama before I step into the voting booth on Tuesday? Or will my unconscious now infiltrate me with dissonance-reduction and effort-justification tactics for reinforcing, with logic cold as iced latte and passion steamy as hot coffee, my conscious public commitment to the Green Party? The fate of the nation hangs in the balance.



  1. Michigan State—What year? I was class of 1966. Philosophy, of all things. Please do vote for Obama. We need every vote we can get.


    Comment by John McCreery — 5 November 2012 @ 3:14 am

  2. Hi John. Class of ’74, but I was on the 5-year plan. I recall from your remarks at the Dead Voles blog that you liked your time at MSU, that you were stimulated intellectually by the honors program and by many of the professors, and that you couldn’t care less about the spectator sports. I should have done a gap year, maybe more, after high school, though I don’t think the term had been invented yet. You probably lived in Holmes Hall. I started out in Akers, just across the road. We built a huge slingshot out of a bed headboard and an inner tube from a car tire, which after a few beers we would deploy for launching projectiles through the third-floor window toward Holmes. It was a five-man operation: two on each side pressing the frame against the wall while one pulled back the inner tube. Of course there was no way we could generate enough propulsive thrust to make it that far, but then most of the physics and engineering majors were over at Holmes. A superball would bounce that far as long as no cars or pedestrians got in the way.

    One reason I’m reluctant to vote for Obama is that I’m not sure which “we” he actually represents.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2012 @ 5:43 am

  3. The Green Party candidate running for Congress in my district hasn’t updated her page since July, even though she said she was going to write about the town meeting in Boulder at which she made an appearance. A sluggard and a liar, evidently — she won’t get my vote.

    Based on my answers to this online questionnaire I agree 97% with Jill Stein’s positions — she’s the Green Party candidate for President, as it turns out — and not at all with Romney’s. But I also agree 75% with Obama. I side 83% with Rocky Anderson and 80% with Gary Johnson — who the heck are they? There’s certainly no guarantee that if through some freakish scifi intervention Stein won the election she would follow through on her positions any more than Obama has. And Colorado is a hotly contested state, maybe the closest of all of them… Okay, I’m going to flipflop and vote Obama again. And he damned well better appreciate it, too.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 November 2012 @ 7:49 am

  4. John:
    Paddy Power (bookmaker here) has paid out on Obama already. What does he know that the pollsters don’t? Just that all the money was going that way and he hopes when they come to collect they might put a novelty bet on.

    From this distance the electoral system seems quite crocked, the majoritarian cannot ever represent the shades of opinion that any country in modern times contains. The old democracies, Britain, France and the U.S. are it seems stuck with it and a similar oscillation between left and right shows up with constant ideological swerves. Daft.

    Obama. Never liked him. If the great fire of Chicago had not sent my ancestors home, I would probably stay at home.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 6 November 2012 @ 4:56 pm

  5. It took a long time for me to decide on Obama the first time. He wasn’t much of a disappointment to me because I didn’t expect much out of him. I was surprised that the online quiz could find enough positions on which to identify a large separation between Obama and Romney. After all, Obama’s signature legislation on healthcare was originally promulgated by Romney as governor of Massachusetts. If I had more of an anthropological background I could probably cite research demonstrating that the greatest hostilities occur between groups that are the most similar to each other. To me the net of the swerve and counterswerve always results in a rightward drift on economic and military issues. In terms of social issues, on the other hand — gay rights, abortion, maybe eventually marijuana — the shift moves leftward. There is though the countervailing law and order pressure pushing for more jails and longer sentences, along with the pervasive surveillance of homeland security.

    My Irish ancestors settled in Massachusetts; it’s my Polish and Slovak forebears who wound up in Chicago. One of the people manning the polling place invoked a famous Chicagoism when I showed up bright and early to make my preferences official: “Vote early, vote often.” I asked for two ballots but they wouldn’t do it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 November 2012 @ 7:21 pm

  6. At the end of the day though, I’d rather see Obama win than Mittens, the Democrats rather than the Republicans. And it looks like the Tea Partiers are failing wherever they’re running, which is also good news.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 November 2012 @ 9:11 pm

  7. The projection is in: Colorado has legalized marijuana, not just for medical uses but for recreational as well — the first state to do so. At that point I went to the kitchen to get some Cheetos. I came back to the TV and CO Governor Hickenlooper had just issued an announcement to the effect that it’s going to be complicated to implement the legalization in light of federal laws, so “don’t break out the cheetos and goldfish too quickly.” Dude, you’re bummin’ me.

    And Colorado goes to Obama.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 November 2012 @ 10:09 pm

  8. Will it be taxed? Are there age restrictions? Will the lid become a unit? Are these my feet?


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 7 November 2012 @ 1:37 am

  9. Yes of course. 21. I believe that units have gotten more scientific and standardized these days: grams. No, those are your meters.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 November 2012 @ 6:43 am

  10. Green Party candidate Jill Stein garnered 0.3% of the popular vote nationwide and in Colorado. Boy, am I glad I didn’t vote for that loser.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 November 2012 @ 12:35 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: