Mixing Memory

OK, the initial response to my quesitons about the internet study was overwhelmingly positive, so I’m going to go ahead with it. I just need one more thing from you. Ordinarily with a study like this, I would run a pilot study to figure out exactly what concepts to include in the final version, but since this is my first time doing this web thing, I don’t want to have a bunch of people spread the word, get a bunch of people who will do it once, and then only have the pilot data. So, I need to come up with a list of concepts related to current political issues. What I need is ten higher-level concepts, like abortion, social security, health care, taxes, or the “war on terror.” So here’s what I need. Send me as many political concepts as you can think of, through email or comments. If you answer in comments, feel free to discuss the concepts. IIn essence, your responses will be my pilot data, and the discussion will be our lab meeting about that pilot data.

While you’re doing that, I’m going to go ahead and start setting up the experiment. If you have any other suggestions, let me know.

UPDATED: I changed what I was asking for slightly, because, as Will notes in comments, I was asking for something that was ultimately what I wanted to study.


  1. #1 Will Wilkinson
    October 24, 2006


    Isn’t the trickiness involved in your example about abortion precisely what you’d want to study? Part of the difference in political commitment is a function of differences in representation that reflect different belief systems. That a conception of the concept ABORTION includes MURDER and UNBORN CHILD is part of what it is to be against abortion for lots of people. Right? Or maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re trying to do…

  2. #2 Chris
    October 24, 2006

    Will, unborn child vs. fetus is part of what I want to study, yes. In fact, I was thinking about it today, and it might be better, when there’s conflict like that, to include both.

    Part of why I want concepts at different levels is because I worry that we won’t be able to get a full picture of the representation for abortion (for example) by asking people about abortion only. We’ll also need representations of particular concepts associated with abortion, because you’re going to talk about the issue at different levels, and you’ll need frames for different levels. But you’re right, when there’s a conflict about what to call something, that conflict is part of what we’re interested in, so we shouldn’t leave it out.

  3. #3 Chris
    October 24, 2006

    Actually, you know what, now that I’ve gotten a couple answers in email, it’s pretty clear that what I’m getting is exactly what I would want from the actual task. I’m going to update the post.

  4. #4 Dave Munger
    October 24, 2006

    Health Care
    Social Security
    Freedom of Religion
    Separation of Church and State
    Corporate Greed
    Global Warming
    Energy Independence
    Nuclear Threat
    Preemptive War

    Is that the kind of thing you were looking for? Do you want conservative/liberal versions of these concepts?

  5. #5 Chris
    October 24, 2006

    Dave, no, that’s perfect. Thank you.

  6. #6 xenos
    October 24, 2006

    Might I suggest using the top 5 cornerstone issues of liberals and conservatives, and if there’s overlap see if some obviously populist things are left out to fill it?

    For ex(not researched, a proper look at party platforms and etc is needed, and I’ll try to use categories that have the preffered connotations of the 2 sides):
    _Security(war, terror, crime and punishment),
    _Family(ss. marriage, education, family friendly policies),
    _Work ethic(welfare, taxation, fiscal responsibility)
    _Faith(place of religion in public issues)

    _Rights equality(ss. marriage, pro-choice, no religion in public systems)
    _Social justice(criminal rehabilitaion over punish, welfare)
    _Equal access(quotas and affrim action, permissive immigration, higher minimum wage)
    _Humanistic altruism(environmentalism, more sending programs)
    _Conflict avoidance(anti-war, willing to make offers to stop nuke devel by iran, n.k)

    Populist non-partisan;
    _Power structure agnst(like anti-free trade and anti-corporate vs. all’s fair that is legal)
    _Green environmentalism(minimize human impacts on earth)
    _Protectionism(anti-immigration, anti-outsourcing)

    And then conflate the less defined or less important ones until you reach 10, and neutralise the base of each category from obvious biases. My list here was just a quick work and shouldn’t be taken as anything but an example of a method for category selection.

    I’m a new visitor to this blog btw, interesting subjects you cover.

  7. #7 Pat Mathews
    October 24, 2006

    Civil liberties
    The Rights of citizens
    Habeus Corpus
    Cruel & Unusual punishment
    Torturing prisoners
    Giving up liberty for safety
    Giving up safety for liberty

  8. #8 Chris
    October 24, 2006

    Hah! You know what, xenos, in the context of Lakoff, “family” is perfect. I think I’ll include it in the list, even if it’s not overtly political. It will be nice to be able to say, “This is what the content of conservative/liberal representations of FAMILY really looks like.”

  9. #9 John Wilkins
    October 24, 2006

    Be very careful not to allow the framing of politics in the media to determine what the actual issues are. I think you’d be best off taking the discussions in some suitably comprehensive political philosophy book as the core issues, and adding some ancillary cross-bearing issues in terms of hot button topics.

    One thing to be very aware of is that political issues form an n-dimensional manifold, one dimension for each live topic. It’s important each dimension be independent, at least conceptually if not practically. For instance, laissez faire economics may also be linked to small government, but treat them as independent and not surrogates for each other. The results may surprise you.

    Your final analysis should be in terms of euclidean distances between the coordinates of each individual – you should be able to cluster them over an n-dimensional space in terms of Hamming Distances, and then use a cluster analysis package to find the relevant groups. A lot of bioinformatics tools already do this for large data sets.

  10. #10 coturnix
    October 25, 2006

    – work
    – economy
    – authority
    – success
    – nature

    I bet liberals and conservatives have VERY different ideas what those words mean.

  11. #11 dileffante
    October 25, 2006

    Hum… Though it is nowhere said, should I assume this is US-oriented? (Remember that a lot of SB-readers are non-USians.) If yes, then skip this comment. If not, then I would mention
    – Immigration
    – Pluralism
    – Laicity
    – Globalization
    – Intervention
    – Autonomy
    (since I’m now in Europe)

    – Development
    – Globalization
    – Free market
    – Equality
    (since I come from Southamerica).

  12. #12 Chris
    October 25, 2006

    Hey Dileffante, you’re right, I sometimes forget that people from all over the world read this (I sometimes forget that anyone reads this). I think the first study will focus on U.S. issues, but it might be interesting to look at differences between countries, too, so I think I’m going to set up an international version as well. So any suggestions you have about issues that people outside the U.S. are worried about will be useful.

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