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Grants and Awards

  • International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP) Best Dissertation Award (2018)
  • National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (NSF-SES-1560432); $22,575 (January 2016)
  • Best Graduate Student Paper of the Academic Year Award, University of Nebraska – Lincoln Department of Political Science (Spring 2015)

I have been fortunate to become involved with a wide range of research in political science, psychology, communications, and neuroscience. These research agendas have exposed me to many fascinating literatures and led me to become interested in finding answers to an array of questions, all related to the causes and consequences of how people think about politics and society.

Race and Politics

How do “gut-level” group/racial biases influence political attitudes in light of nonracial ideological principles and social norms of egalitarianism? Can people control their prejudices?

What explains the role of prejudice in driving attitudes toward government assistance? Are people favoring their ingroup or justifying the status quo? Or, are people simply valuing individualistic principles like work ethic and self-reliance?

What is the role of “political correctness” in electoral politics? Is it just a popular trope or can it be utilized to mobilize voters? Is it racial?

Publications:

  • Gonzalez, Frank J. (2017). Thinking about Race: How Group Biases Interact with Ideological Principles to Yield Attitudes toward Government Assistance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
    • When are people more likely to evaluate race-targeted government assistance based on ideological principles rather than racial prejudice? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the mechanisms by which prejudice influences political attitudes. In this dissertation, I develop a theoretical model for explaining how deep-seated, automatic group biases interact with higher-order, ideological principles in order to influence attitudes toward race-targeted government assistance. I suggest group-based principles are more important than individualistic values or ingroup favoritism in explaining race-targeted policy attitudes. I argue that when people evaluate race-targeted policies, controlled neural processes translate automatic neural processes into broad group-based principles, which then become the primary tool people use to evaluate race-targeted policies. As such, the degree to which people’s race-targeted policy opinions are driven by principles rather than automatic group biases is a function of how much controlled processing has occurred. I find support for this model across an array of empirical investigations. In a survey experiment, I find group-based principles to outperform an array of other constructs in predicting race-targeted policy attitudes. Then, in a laboratory experiment, I replicate the primary findings from the survey experiment and show further that the only influence ingroup favoritism has on race-targeted policy attitudes is through automatic, implicit processes. Further, group-based principles are comprised of a combination of ingroup bias and individualistic values. Next, I investigate the translation process from automatic to controlled processes by examining the implications of discrepancies between people’s implicit and explicit attitudes – known as implicit ambivalence. I find that individuals with the most “resolved” racial attitudes are the most likely to evaluate race-related political objects ideologically. Finally, I directly examine the automatic and controlled neural processes hypothesized to underlay this model by using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). I find evidence that activation in brain regions implicated in controlled processing is associated with explicit evaluations of race, and this relationship is strongest among individuals with more extreme group-based principles. I conclude by discussing implications of this model for existing literature as well as possible public policy interventions for reducing the role of prejudice in politics.
      • Advisor: Elizabeth Theiss-Morse

Income Inequality

What makes people support an unequal economic system? Is it more about stereotypes and feelings toward the rich and the poor, or is it about one’s view of “the system” more broadly?

What explains how people would want income inequality to be addressed, if at all? Should we provide more government assistance programs, increase taxes on the wealthy, raise the minimum wage, or restructure the entire system?

How do people’s preferences regarding the economic system relate to their group identities, such as their national and class identities?

Publications:

  • Theiss-Morse, Elizabeth, Frank J. Gonzalez, and Alison O’Toole. Forthcoming. “Hierarchy, American Identity, and Support for Anti Poverty Efforts.” In G. Gustavsson and D. Miller (Eds.), Liberal Nationalism and Its Critics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    • National identity has been argued by some to be a catalyst for encouraging social cohesion within a nation. When citizens identify as compatriots, the argument goes, a shared sense of identity and common values will lead them to want to help, support, and trust one another. However, others have argued national identity can lead to marginalization and even oppression. In this chapter, we examine the consequences of national identity for Americans’ views toward income inequality and poverty, and in doing so propose a broad theoretical framework for predicting when national identity will lead individuals to support or oppose redistributive policies. We suggest national identity is most likely to yield opposition to redistribution when individuals have internalized the hierarchies and inequalities that exist within a nation. We test this framework using a nationally representative survey and a laboratory experiment. The results suggest that in the aggregate, American identity is associated with lower levels of concern about income inequality and opposition to policies that alleviate poverty. However, this relationship is moderated by implicitly associating wealth with being “American.” The more individuals make this implicit association regarding the prototypical American, the more national identity leads to conservative attitudes regarding income inequality and poverty. These findings suggest national identity can be oppressive when individuals perceive a certain characteristic, in this case wealth, as a fundamental aspect of being a “true” American.

Transnational Policy Attitudes

What causes people to support globalizing policies like international trade, lenient immigration laws, humanitarian aid, or even cultural amalgamation between countries?

How are people’s attitudes toward global politics and transnational policies influenced by deep-seated psychological mechanisms?

  • Peterson, Johnathan C., Frank J. Gonzalez, and Stephen Schneider (2017). The Effects of Disease Salience and Xenophobia on Support for Humanitarian Aid. Politics and the Life Sciences, 36(2), 17-36.
    • This article examines how disease salience influences attitudes toward two types of humanitarian aid:
      sending foreign aid and housing refugees. Some have argued that disease salience increases levels of out-group
      prejudice through what is referred to as the behavioral immune system (BIS), and this increase in out-group
      prejudice works to shape policy attitudes. However, an alternative mechanism that may explain the effects of
      disease salience is contamination fear, which would suggest there is no group bias in the effects of disease threat.
      Existing work largely interprets opposition to policies that assist out-groups as evidence of out-group prejudice.
      We suggest it is necessary to separate measures of out-group animosity from opinions toward specific policies
      to determine whether increased out-group prejudice rather than fear of contamination is the mechanism by
      which disease salience impacts policy attitudes. Across two experiments, disease salience is shown to significantly
      decrease support for humanitarian aid, but only in the form of refugee support. Furthermore, there is converging
      evidence to suggest that any influence of disease salience on aid attitudes is not caused by a corresponding increase
      in xenophobia. We suggest that the mechanism by which disease threat influences policy attitudes is a general fear
      of contamination rather than xenophobia. These findings go against an important hypothesized mechanism of the
      BIS and have critical implications for the relationship between disease salience and attitudes toward transnational
      policies involving humanitarian aid.
  • Wals, Sergio, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Frank J. Gonzalez, and Tess Gosda (2015). Love Thy Neighbor? Perceptions of Foreigners and Support for Transnational PoliciesPolitical Research Quarterly68(3), 537-551.
    • This study assesses the extent to which individual levels of trust in foreigners relate to preferences about regional transnational policies. We use a nationally representative survey from Mexico (2003), an emerging democracy with relatively high levels of nationalism and several multinational trade agreements. We argue that clarifying the target of social trust is essential for understanding the attitudes of citizens of less powerful countries toward the international policy realm. Statistical analysis strongly suggests that in fact trust in foreigners, above generalized trust, is key to understanding such attitudes. Our results indicate that trust in foreigners among Mexican respondents is positively associated with support for open immigration policies, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and political union with the United States.

Public Deliberation (about Science)

What are the personality and contextual factors that encourage open-minded deliberation between citizens?

Are citizens capable of deliberating “rationally” about science, or will predispositions and cognitive biases reign? Do people learn anything about scientific issues through deliberation?

What are the ramifications of discussing issues of science in groups? Are several heads better than one, or do people double down on their preexisting opinions? Or, do people conform to their group, causing polarization?

Publications:

PytlikZillig, Lisa M., Myiah J. Hutchens (Washington State University), Peter Muhlberger, Frank J. Gonzalez, and Alan J. Tomkins (2018). Deliberative Public Engagement with Science: An Empirical Investigation, Springer International Publishing, Springerbriefs in Psychology Series.

    • This compact open access reference delves beyond popular concepts of educated consumers and an informed public by examining the science behind deliberative engagement. Using data from four longitudinal studies, the authors assess public engagement methods in deliberative discussions of ethical, legal, and social issues concerning innovations in nanotechnology. Coverage includes the theoretical origins of the studies, forms of engagement and variations used, and in-depth details on cognitive, affective, and social components that go into the critical thinking process and forming of opinions. Not only are the findings intriguing in and of themselves, but researchers from varied fields will also find them useful in pursuing their own projects.

What Makes Someone a Liberal or a Conservative?

Are there biological, genetic, and/or neural factors behind one’s ideology?

Are liberals and conservatives different in how they evaluate groups at a basic level?

Do liberals and conservatives respond differently to threat/negativity?

Do liberals and conservatives utilize different fundamental moral values?

Publications: 

  • Gonzalez, Frank J., Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Hibbing (2019). “No Longer Beyond Our Scope”: The Biological Underpinnings of Political Attitudes. In A. J. Berinsky (Ed.), New Directions in Public Opinion (3rd Edition). New York, NY: Routledge.
    • New Directions in Public Opinion offers overviews of state of the art research being done on public opinion and political psychology, and is appropriate for both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. Kevin Smith, John Hibbing, and I introduce the topic of “Biology and Politics” and summarize where the literature in the field stands as well as how it might shape understandings of public opinion broadly.
  • Haas, Ingrid J., Melissa N. Baker, and Frank J. Gonzalez (2017). Who Can Deviate from the Party Line? Political Ideology Moderates Evaluation of Incongruent Policy Positions in Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Social Justice Research, 30(4), 355-380.
    • Political polarization at the elite level is a major concern in many contemporary democracies, which is argued to alienate large swaths of the electorate and prevent meaningful social change from occurring, yet little is known about how individuals respond to political candidates who deviate from the party line and express policy positions incongruent with their party affiliations. This experiment examines the neural underpinnings of such evaluations using functional MRI (fMRI). During fMRI, participants completed an experimental task where they evaluated policy positions attributed to hypothetical political candidates. Each block of trials focused on one candidate (Democrat or Republican), but all participants saw two candidates from each party in a randomized order. On each trial, participants received information about whether the candidate supported or opposed a specific policy issue. These issue positions varied in terms of congruence between issue position and candidate party affiliation. We modeled neural activity as a function of incongruence and whether participants were viewing ingroup or outgroup party candidates. Results suggest that neural activity in brain regions previously implicated in both evaluative processing and work on ideological differences (insula and anterior cingulate cortex) differed as a function of the interaction between incongruence, candidate type (ingroup versus outgroup), and political ideology. More liberal participants showed greater activation to incongruent versus congruent trials in insula and ACC, primarily when viewing ingroup candidates. Implications for the study of democratic representation and linkages between citizens’ calls for social change and policy implementation are discussed.
  • Mills, Mark, Frank J. Gonzalez, Karl Giuseffi, Benjamin Sievert, John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and Michael Dodd (2016). Political Conservatism Predicts Asymmetries in Emotional Scene MemoryBehavioural Brain Research306, 84-90.
    • Variation in political ideology has been linked to differences in attention to and processing of emotional stimuli, with stronger responses to negative versus positive stimuli (negativity bias) the more politically conservative one is. As memory is enhanced by attention, such findings predict that memory for negative versus positive stimuli should similarly be enhanced the more conservative one is. The present study tests this prediction by having participants study 120 positive, negative, and neutral scenes in preparation for a subsequent memory test. On the memory test, the same 120 scenes were presented along with 120 new scenes and participants were to respond whether a scene was old or new. Results on the memory test showed that negative scenes were more likely to be remembered than positive scenes, though, this was true only for political conservatives. That is, a larger negativity bias was found the more conservative one was. The effect was sizeable, explaining 45% of the variance across subjects in the effect of emotion. These findings demonstrate that the relationship between political ideology and asymmetries in emotion processing extend to memory and, furthermore, suggest that exploring the extent to which subject variation in interactions among emotion, attention, and memory is predicted by conservatism may provide new insights into theories of political ideology.
  • Neiman, Jayme L., Frank J. Gonzalez, Kevin Wilkinson, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Hibbing (2016). Speaking Different Languages or Reading from the Same Script? Value-Based Word Usage of Democratic and Republican PoliticiansPolitical Communication33(2), 212-240.
    • Words are believed to be indicators of the values that are important to politicians and an impressive amount of empirical research has analyzed variations in language use. While it is generally accepted that there are value differences between Democrats and Republicans, the extent to which these differences are reflected in word usage has been theorized but is largely untested. The connection between values and language is, theoretically, not limited just to politicians, but should be especially evident among politicians as representatives of existing ideological poles. In this article, we examine elite rhetoric through the lens of four value-centered theoretical frameworks (Lakoff’s Parenting Styles model, Moral Foundations Theory, Schwartz’s Values Theory, and Motivated Social Cognition Theory). Contrary to the expectations posited by these four theories, we find little reliable evidence of value-related language differences between Democratic and Republican politicians. Our findings suggest that, at least when it comes to elite rhetoric, widely accepted theoretical claims about the value-based nature of political language and political differences are not consistently supported by empirical analysis.
  • Deppe, Kristen, Frank J. Gonzalez, Jayme L. Neiman, Jackson Pahlke, Carly Jacobs, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Hibbing (2015). Reflective Liberals and Intuitive Conservatives: A Look at the Cognitive Reflection Test and IdeologyJudgment and Decision Making10(4), 314-331.
    • Prior research finds that liberals and conservatives process information differently. Predispositions toward intuitive versus reflective thinking may help explain this individual level variation. There have been few direct tests of this hypothesis and the results from the handful of studies that do exist are contradictory. Here we report the results of a series of studies using the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) to investigate inclinations to be reflective and political orientation. We find a relationship between thinking style and political orientation and that these effects are particularly concentrated on social attitudes. We also find it harder to manipulate intuitive and reflective thinking than a number of prominent studies suggest. Priming manipulations used to induce reflection and intuition in published articles repeatedly fail in our studies. We conclude that conservatives—more specifically, social conservatives—tend to be dispositionally less reflective, social liberals tend to be dispositionally more reflective, and that the relationship between reflection and intuition and political attitudes may be more resistant to easy manipulation than existing research would suggest.