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The Politics of Manipulating the Psychological Distance through Rhetoric

Making the Future Feel Closer – the Politics of Manipulating the Psychological Distance through Rhetoric

Speaker(opens in a new window)Christian Arnold (Cardiff University)

Wednesday, March 29, 14:00–14:45 (Irish time)

Please register (opens in a new window)here to receive the link and password to the online meeting and information on the room at UCD.

Abstract: This research project studies how politicians can manipulate the perceived distance to events to draw public attention to topics they care about and what consequences arise from this for public policy.
To establish the necessary micro-level theory, we use automated toponym annotation to analyse lab experiments and a corpus of newspaper articles from the New York Times. When individuals think about events far in the future, they can do so either in very broad terms—e.g. a BBQ next year—or in a very detailed way like for example a BBQ next year on May 4th. In both cases, the time it takes until the event is the same, but they have different temporal resolutions. What drives psychological distance is not only the event distance, i.e. how far an event is away. Both the event distance and the event resolution jointly determine individuals’ psychological distance to an event and with it the event construal and important behavioural downstream effects such as planning for a particular event. In a second step, we then show how politicians use this as a rhetorical tool. Politicians adapt the displayed psychological distance to future events systematically to change the attention to policy issues of their interest. But the different psychological distances of speakers not only affect the political agenda, but it also has tangible consequences for public policy. Proposing measures for event horizon, event resolution and construal directly from language, we investigate our claims using speeches from the opening ceremony at COP26 in Glasgow and also with electoral pledges from Scotland and Sweden. We not only offer tools to study political rhetoric directly from language at scale. Our findings also have broader theoretical implications for all those who try to understand the strategic character of rhetoric and the role of time in politics.

About the speaker: Christian Arnold is a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University. Prior to that, he was at Oxford University and worked as a Data Scientist in industry. He graduated with a PhD in Political Science from the Graduate School of the University of Mannheim. Using data-driven methods from statistics and machine learning, his work lies at the intersection between social science and computer science. His Political Science papers can be found in the Journal of Politics or International Interactions, among others. He presented findings relevant to Computer Science at the International Conference on Machine Learning and the Theory and Practice of Differential Privacy Workshop Series. He also regularly collaborates with private and public institutions as a consultant.