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Personality targeting and message framing of arguments for Brexit. Can a little psychology make a political campaign more persuasive?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Antonio M. M. Rodrigues.

One of the most striking findings from the Brexit vote was the extent to which different voting decisions correlated with different psychological traits and values. This talk will start by outlining a new analysis of the British Election Study data in which we identify 10 ‘types’ of voter in the Brexit referendum, and find that psychological traits and values like ‘Actively Open Minded Thinking’, ‘Authoritarianism’ and ‘Trust in MPs’ differ massively between these different types of voter. I will then go on to explore the idea that individual differences in psychological traits and values could be used both to frame messages to make them more appealing, and to target them to people who might find those messages more persuasive. I will present the results from 3 recent studies exploring framing and targeting. In the first we find that messages targeted based on people’s personality and moral values are sometimes rated as more persuasive when targeted to the right people. In the second we find that understanding the psychology of attitudes towards immigration helps us to frame messages more effectively. In the third study, we test 20 different message framings on over 5000 Leave and Remain supporters, and find evidence that some messages are more effective for each group, and that some messages seem to be persuasive for both, such as an appeal to ‘social norms’. Finally, I will reflect on the ethics of this kind of framing and targeting, both in psychological research, and in the political domain.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society talks series.

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