Split Feelings: Understanding Implicit and Explicit Political Persuasion

Split Feelings: Understanding Implicit and Explicit Political Persuasion

By Timothy J. Ryan, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Yanna Krupnikov, Stony Brook University

Research in psychology has established that people have visceral positive and negative reactions to all kinds of stimuli—so-called implicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are empirically distinct from explicit attitudes, and they appear to have separate consequences for political behavior. However, little is known about whether they change in response to different factors than explicit attitudes. Identifying distinct antecedents for implicit and explicit attitudes would have far-reaching implications for the study of political persuasion. We hypothesized that implicit attitudes would change primarily in response to political advertisements’ emotional valence, but this turned out to be wrong. In contrast, our next hypothesis that implicit (but not explicit) attitudes would improve in response to increased familiarity with an attitude object was supported across several tests. Aside from this finding, our studies illustrate how routine preregistration helps researchers convey what they learned from each test—including when predictions are not borne out.