Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Human Information Processing - Schroder et al. (1967)

Schroder, Harold M., Michael J. Driver, and Siegfried Streufert. 1967. Human information processing; individuals and groups functioning in complex social situations. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Very old book, but contains many provocative ideas and well-organized thoughts. I am informed that this book is famous among information scientists and cognitive psychologists.

The book is composed of three parts. The first part introduces the authors’ theory (or theories). The main point is the relationship between environmental complexity and complexity of human information processing. Of course, there are other hypotheses that are examined, for example, variations between individuals. The main point is that there are inverted U-shaped relationship between environmental stimuli and complexity of human information processing. In other words, there are optimal point that is achieved around the middle range of environmental stimuli. If the stimuli were less than an optimal point, organisms (including people) are not likely to develop complex thoughts, simple rule based decision-making. However, if the stimuli went too further beyond an optimal point, organisms also less inclined to develop complex thoughts. Thus, educational devices (training, according to the authors’ terms) become optimally effective only when the complexity of such devices (i.e., stimuli) is complex enough.

The second part provides a series of empirical findings that are supportive of the theories in the first part. Most of materials are very old, indicating that methods (based on manual content analyses) and testing tools (based on basic statistical analyses) are simple but robust.

The third part carries the code-books and procedures the authors used, in order to construct their measures. Probably researchers whose research emphases are in applied fields would be interested in the third part.

Substantial and technically informative book, if readers are interested in human psychology of decision-making or reasoning. Some of the chapters, especially those dealing with ambivalence of human reasoning in the first three chapters, sound interesting for public opinion researchers

Deep South - Allison, Burleigh, and Gardner (1941/1969)

Allison, Davis, Burleigh B. Gardner, and Mary R. Gardner. 1969. Deep South : a social anthropological study of caste and class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

When I studied in South Korea, I am always hungry for recent English books because they are not relatively easy to obtain there. Old books could be accessed in the university library but there I was seeking for new books since I thought their content might be more advanced than the old ones.

However, my views totally changed after I arrived in the U.S. The most recent book (sometime books published in 2011, while I am still living in 2010) can be read, but most of the trials was not always enjoyable. New books are necessary to update relevant literature, and poke at the recent topics and arguments that are under debate. However, the topics new books dealt with are sometimes tedious or sometimes too technical or sometimes sound like tautology (Although not always).

Instead, I recently feel the beauty of old books and the cogency of their accents. Deep South is a sort of beautiful books (Similar approach was preceded by William DuBois’s The Philadelphia Negro in 1899).

The first few chapters start with interviews with white and black informants who live in deep south (termed Old City, and rural places). Most of stories are very tangible and clearly show the relationships between whites and blacks. While some of the terminologies are a little bit awkward from the perspectives of recent days. For example, ‘caste’, one of the main terms in the book, sounds very unfamiliar to recent American residents because the term might not seem to fit with pluralistic and democratic regimes any more. Probably recent sociologists or political scientists (while I am not sure about anthropologists) adopt racial relationship or symbolic racism or racial dominance, rather than caste. However, the strongly accented term might be better to directly point out the social structure that are intermingled with racial caste and economical class with more clarity. Recent terms portraying racial relationships might sound politically correct, but they seem to hold less power to clarify the seriousness of racial problems in the country.

Probably the chapter 7 would be the most widely known chapter to social network analysts. Basically, the authors adopted two-mode network which is comprised of two measures, one is persons, and the other is social events (and their participation). Based on the presence/absence of a person in an event, researchers transform the two-mode network into one-mode one (i.e., two persons can be assumed to be connected, if they simultaneously participated into one same event). However, the evidence does not demand much knowledge over network-related statistics. Anyway, simple statistics clearly support the notion of social cliques that are the bricks of social structure that are hierarchically stratified.

Other chapters provide more participatory observations relating to the social structure of deep south that is divided into (1) white-black, (2) poor-rich, and (3) rural-urban.

While reading the book, two things might be noted because the authors were also influenced by their time. First, black English was all carried with non-standard English, for example, expression of ‘colored’ is written as ‘cullud.’ Even if poor whites’ English were written with grammatically correct form, but wealthy blacks’ English were written as uncorrected form. It reminds me one of readings that showed Japanese English that was written as Native Americans heard. Second, ‘nigger’ was too frequently used. Probably this word MUST be avoided in recent time. Two things might tell readers how much American society changes and be careful when discussing racial issues.

Anyway, it is a readable book that I enjoyed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reasoning and Choice - Sniderman, Bordy, and Tetlock (1991)

Sniderman, Paul M., Richard A. Brody, and Philip E. Tetlock. 1991. Reasoning and Choice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Some books are repeatedly cited with many reasons. Some are highlighted because of their initiation of certain research topics. Some are highlighted because of novelty of their arguments. Some are focused because their findings are well summarized and organized, serving like a final report in discussed topic. Whatever the category they belong to, books with many citations deserve to read carefully, I believe.

This book, I think, seems the third category. Findings and critics (meaning the accurate or correct judgment of an external world phenomenon) are well summarized and how they sort them out in order to fit their arguments. Especially, the first chapter is well constructed what topics the authors want to deal with, and what suggestions for future research could transform the discipline into the better.

According to the authors, there are six themes with which they want to deal in their book: “the revolt against minimalism, the concept of consistency, the role of feelings as well as beliefs in political reasoning, the “heterogeneity” assumption, the role of education in democratic citizenship, and an account of .. dynamics of reasoning and choice” (pp.1-2). Of course, the six themes are well-interconnected with each other.

Arguments, I believe, do not wait for my summary. Here (because this writing is for myself, not for other readers) I want to note one dissatisfaction over their findings and conclusion.

While many paragraphs deal with two psychological mechanisms (i.e., differentiation and integration), I think their definitions are not so harmonious with their uses of terms. I believe that these seemingly unfitted use of terminology does not belong to the authors’ faults, but conventions of opinion surveys or quantitative measures. First, there are many places where we can observe ‘idea-elements’ following Phillip E. Converse (1964), but there are actually no ‘ideas’ in measurements. Ideas are imposed by researchers or survey designers with the form of preference of certain issues (e.g., affirmative action) or arguments (e.g., people with AIDS should be quarantined) or principles (liberalism-conservatism). However, ideas, in normal discourse, denote some thoughts or cognitions, rather than preferences. Also ideas usually imply that thoughts or cognitions are created or voluntary, rather than given.

Second, thus belief system seems like judgmental structure of preference, rather than a system of knowledge or others.

Third, thus the mentioned belief system has to be measured as the strength between preference A and preference B, rather than a system of key ideas or thoughts or cognitions.

Fourth, opinion polls only ask respondents to assign themselves on a given set of locations.

Thus differentiation is less likely to be measured quantitatively because the dimensions that are obtained are previously achieved by a researcher, not by the survey respondent. While integration is possible to be measured, it has to be mixed with random guessing when respondents’ a web of belief is not sufficient enough.

However, as I’ve already pointed out, this book is book and sophisticated enough. A worthwhile book for reading and also holding for later consultation (although some chapters are out-of-dated because of the lead author’s later publication, such as “Scar of race” or “Reaching beyond race”)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Culture war? - Fiorina et al. 2005

Fiorina, Morris P., Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy Pope. 2005. Culture war? : the myth of a polarized America. New York: Pearson Longman.

Such confess - “Jesus Christ changed my life” – is widely observed in American and also in my home country. Especially, the name of Jesus, at least in South Korea, is contested by itself. The name of Jesus is equated with American Solider, and frequently American President. Usually, Jesus followers are very extremely anti-communistic (most South Koreans are very anti-communistic, due to the Korean War), and very negative towards Russia and China, and also emphasize the blood-relationships with the US. Religion, whatever morals it argues and takes and propagates to the public, is not unrelated with politics because religion believers are also voters who can determine the political power.

Personally I believe culture war exists. Also I assume some arguments are seriously overblown as the authors (Fiorina et al.) pointed out. However, in my opinion, culture war can be serious if some situations come (Probably no one knows the day!). Why? First, even if there were only some people who cause culture war, they hold high solidarity, indicating that their power could be more than dispersed or heterogeneous others. In an emergency, the small but well-connected fews dominates the large but isolated manys, as shown in Animal Farm or in Nazi. (Be careful, I am not negative toward certain religions. I self-identified myself as a god-believer).

Second, the winning margin in duopoly system like the USA, small number of supporters – who do not change their minds in whatever situations – are attractive, giving politicians safe political bulwarks. Consider LDS (frequently called Mormons). I believe if they were scattered across the continent, their political power would not be so influential. While the geographically concentrated particular religion believers may hurt their success in nation-wide politics (e.g., Romney), it is also true that such loyal and well-predicted success warrants the survival of certain morals that a religion wants to hold.

While I read the authors’ findings and arguments, I agree with their conclusion but I do not think their findings are truly enough to deny ‘culture war’ ideas. Some of the findings (especially, the figure) seem inappropriate because the vertical axis (i.e., Y-axis in XY coordinate) is assumed to have the full scale, which, in turn, hides any subtle (but could be substantial in real world situation) differences between so-called two sides. I think their way to provide their findings has some problems..

Also, as a media scholar, I have to point out their assumption on the role of media. As a one factor creating the illusion of culture wars, the authors mentioned the media which almost give up providing meaningful neutral information by emphasizing the entertainment value of the contents. However, I am less inclined to agree with this point. First, I am not sure why the ‘commercial’ media should have such norms. Their purpose is to make money, not to report facts. Second, without people’s preexisting stereotyped culture-war idea, the media can make such illusion?

Despite some disagreements of mine, I believe their conclusion should be seriously taken because of the danger of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Post-broadcast democracy - Markus Prior (2007)

Prior, Markus. 2007. Post-broadcast democracy : how media choice increases inequality in political involvement and polarizes elections. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Obviously, recent trend in public opinion studies has emphasized the importance of exogenous factors, such as community environment (e.g., racial composition, or population density, or community income level), median environment like the main predictor variable in this study (e.g., the number of stations, or the time when the cable television was introduced).

Markus Prior’s study seems plausible and his evidence is telling and supportive of what he wants to say in his book. The main arguments in this book,
1. Recently, media provide more choice (or opportunities) for people,
2. People have different media content preference, which influences the intake of their political information (measured as relative entertainment preference),
3. Since political information is critical factor in OMA framework, change of media environment leads to change in political opportunities, motivations, and ability.

If readers familiar with Prior’s journal articles published in top-tiered political science journals, they will follow his argument rapidly (Of course, many of chapters are based on his records of publication).

Important study giving readers great insight… However, I have one more question that I am always curious with. If some people who do not want to listen, see, or learn anything about politics, then their lives in low media-choice (i.e., situations that they had to absorb political information without any voluntary willingness) can be good? Further, their lives in such situations can be ideal or desirable, from the perspective of political regime called plural democracy?

I assume that many scholars took implicit assumption that more knowledge and more importantly more active voting should be needed, and any situations hurting those ideals would erode democracy. Probably true, but personal opinion is this sounds too much eliticism in these arguments. As I more read about so-called empirical political studies, I have to confess that these studies clearly demonstrated that any democracy has to be unequal. Powerful people have powerful voice (not desirable, but this seems okay, at least to me), but too frequently, weak people’s voices have copied powerful people’s voice, and simply justifying the preexisting regime and its structure.

What about Swifter – borrowed from Prior’s terms? If they learned something about politics, and if they participated due to the gained knowledge, their participation would reflect sincere and genuine their interest? Or simple swung by intensity of marketing-type electoral campaigns? How can we be certain that their knowledge and their participation are merely pseudo-knowledge or pseudo-participation?

If people do not want to be informed, is it better way to let them be uninformed and to let them escape their unwanted duty from the choice of collective decisionmaking?

Although I said above, I am not certain that this seems right. Just thought.

Anyway, Prior’s “Post-broadcast democracy” is good piece and enjoyable book, I believe.