The Affective Intelligence Theory


aitAffective Intelligence and Political Judgment by Marcus, Neuman, and MacKuen

There is an ongoing debate on whether the electorate is competent enough to make sound political decisions. Some scholars have proposed that the influence of affects should also be discussed in the debate. Consequently, there is a growing literature on the influence of emotions, especially that of anxiety and enthusiasm, to better understand the voting behaviour. This article presents the affective intelligence theory, and argues that the role of affects on the voting behaviour cannot be underestimated. This theory offers an alternative explanation to the most commonly accepted rational choice model and the normal vote model.

According to the theory, it is the emotions, more precisely the anxiety, that activate the aware considerations of people’s existing political views. Therefore, emotions have a very crucial influence on rational and conscious thinking. In short,  voters rely on their habits when the political atmosphere is benign whereas they resort to conscious considerations when anxiety arises because of the uneasy political situation.

Complementarity of Emotion and Reason

The affective intelligence theory  presents the complementarity of emotion and reason in political judgment; therefore, it challenges the conventional view that emotions prevents sound political judgments. The scholars of affective intelligence theory consider the rational choice theory as a contrasting case because the followers of this school of thought limit the human behaviour to a mere calculation of pros and cons, thus undermining any intellectual affective influence. Therefore, the authors seek to understand why human emotions have been under evaluated, and why the rational choice has been considered as the dominant approach in human behavior researches. In addition to political thought, the scholars also base their arguments on physiology, and psychology, as they believe that the key to solve the paradox between cognition and emotion lies in neuroscience.

Dispositional and Surveillance Systems

The general approach of the supporters of this theory shares that of Robert Zajonc, who is the first psychologist to challenge the think-first-and-feel-second ordering face to a new political issue. While explaining the reliance on the feelings, the authors identify two systems that are located in limbic region and functions at the sub-consciousness level: the disposition system, and the surveillance system. The first basically consists of the emotional calculations that become a disposition that is often called a habit. The latter can be considered as a radar that captures the state of the environment for any intrusion of a novelty or a possible threat, and makes use of the emotions to either warn or comfort the person. That way, the person gets alerted, and it is then that s/he starts paying aware attention to the issue. This argument constitutes a big challenge to the conventional view, which is regarded as a Western tradition that undermines the emotions on political human behaviour.

Conventional Western Tradition of Emotions

The authors present four possible pathology mechanisms that are developed in Western society. The first, the displacement pathology, refers to the state of overstimulation by the emotional input, which leads to impulsiveness and lack of sound judgment. It is conceived that the emotions take over the individual, rather than s/he controls the emotions. The second, the distraction pathology, refers to the state of mind that cannot evaluate the relevance of the matters when the individual is triggered by the emotion. The third, the intransigence pathology, refers to the idea that when the emotion is to an extreme extent, it prevents the individual from even listening to other arguments. This could be exemplified by the party identification. The last one, the self-absorption pathology, refers to the suggestion that one’s incapacity to think of the common good when the person is in a state of emotional arousal. The most important common point of these four pathologies (the conventional view) is that there is only one-way causality; namely, it is the emotion that distracts the cognition.

Emotional Reactions Occur before Conscious Perceptions: the role of declarative and procedural memory

The authors attempt to show that the emotions are not merely results of a single process, but actually they are the ultimate result of two subsystems in the brain. The authors use Dr. Claparede’s discovery to support the idea that the aforesaid emotional systems function at the sub-consciousness level even though these processes cannot be recalled. For instance, a patient who is unable to remember precedent several minutes demonstrates evidence of association made by the action that cannot be remembered, which is believed to be a proof showing the function of the emotional systems. It sheds more light onto the role of associations made by the individual thanks to the affective stimulus.  They also find support from Bechara’s card game, which is an experiment conducted with two groups. One group consists of people who do not have bilateral damage in  brain’s memory area whereas the second group consists of people with lesion in the area. According to the results, both groups of people are able to understand the logic of game; however the individuals with bilateral lesions cannot adjust their strategic behaviour even if they understand the game. The key finding of this experiment is that the participants of the first group could adjust their strategies even before they understand what the game is about. Namely, they get the hunch before they can conceptualize the game. The results of these two cases emphasize the difference between declarative memory and procedural memory, therefore demonstrating experimental support that the conscious awareness is not necessary in order to reach the “objective”. It also raises awareness to the fact that the emotional reactions occur before the conscious perceptions. Therefore, according to the evidence, the declarative memory (pathway to the conscious awareness) is responsible for semantic understandings whereas the procedural memory (pathway to the limbic system/more engaged in behaviour) is responsible for executing the learned behaviours.

The Affective Intelligence Theory is built on Three Assertions

1- the emotion and emotion-led judgment occurs at the sub-conscious level.

2-there are two different emotion systems with different influence on conscious awareness and behaviour.

3-individuals have two types of reliance: reliance on habits, and reliance on explicit considerations.

When does the conscious reasoning step in?

The disposition system manages the reliance on habits and learned behaviours. It is highly linked to procedural memory in that not only it takes feedback from the procedural memory on the success or failure of the ongoing action, it also retains the previously verified action that will succeed from the procedural memory. It simply checks if the actions are executed as planned, and it produces a positive emotional outcome if the action is executed as planned, and a negative emotional outcome if it is not. All these processes occur without explicit conscious reasoning. It is only when the habitual routine is disturbed by a novel and threatening stimuli because the storage of actions approved with the lived associations cannot suffice to offer a solution to the problem the individual faces that the conscious awareness steps in. It is the surveillance system that stops the ongoing action, engages conscious considerations, and shifts attention to the new dangerous stimuli. This system principally can be considered as a system that is responsible for the survival of the person. It is the anxiety that signals the need for a higher cognitive function.

The Implications of the Study

According to the data analyzed by the authors, people state having very low anxiety levels during the day whereas they state having moderate enthusiasm levels during the day. This information allows the authors to suggest that in political life, the individuals’ political judgments are mostly based on the disposition system whereas the cognitive reasoning steps in when the routine is disturbed. It is predicted that the rational choice model can apply to the explicit reasoning period. This is the moment when the politics of persuasion is possible since the unsatisfied electorate seeks solutions, which obliges him or her to gather information and to think of the alternatives to some extent. Namely, on the one hand, when the electorate is anxious, the rational choice model is applicable. On the other hand, when the electorate is not anxious, it is the disposition system that is in charge, in other words, it is the learned behaviours (political dispositions) and the political habits (Party ID) that are determinant in the political judgments. Here, the authors also propose that the anxious voters should be more open-minded as they look for alternatives as a solution. On the contrary, the voters are complacent when the anxiety is not high enough to engage conscious reasoning. The authors also mention that the habits behave like personality traits.

When it comes to empirical testing of the theory, in order to confirm the emotional responsiveness to the campaigns, and the independency of disposition and surveillance mechanisms, the authors examine the ANES’s survey data on 1980,1984, and 1988 presidential election. The result confirms the predictions that the political messages caused emotions among the people. Contrary to the common valence model, the results reveal that both systems act independently. That is to say that the decrease in enthusiasm is not necessarily followed by an increase in anxiety. In other words, they can both co exist. For instance, even if the concern about the Reagan’s presidency rose among the people, this concern did not create enough anxiety to vote fore the opposing candidate in 1980. The authors find stronger support for the independency of the two systems with the panel design interviews in 1980 where the same people were interviewed three times during the year. The authors also find that the incumbent’s power of inducing anxiety among its supporters is much more than that of the challenger due to the already established relationship between the incumbent and the people.

In short, the affective intelligence theory challenges the conventional view according to which the rational choice model is dominant and the emotions only inhibits the sound political judgment. In contrast to the conventional view, the model proposes that the affects and conscious reasoning are complementary.