BETH VONNAHME

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ABOUT ME

I am an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. My research interests fall within the general categories of public opinion and political behavior. Specifically, I am interested in the importance of psychological processes relating to the formation and persistence of political choices.

Two Pens on Notebook
 

EDUCATION

1998-2001

ANGELO STATE UNIVERSITY

BA in Government

2001-2006

RICE UNIVERSITY

MA in Political Science
PhD in Political Science

 

RESEARCH

ASSOCIATIVE MEMORY AND POLITICAL DECISION MAKING

Beth Miller Vonnahme. (2019). Associative Memory and Political Decision Making. In . Oxford University Press.

Political psychologists have generally thought of information processing as proceeding through a series of stages: (1) exposure and attention, (2) comprehension, (3) encoding, interpretation, and elaboration, (4) organization and storage in memory, and (5) retrieval. Information processing models rely on two key structures for the processing of information: working memory and long-term memory. Working memory actively processes incoming information whereas long-term memory is the storage structure of the brain. The most widely accepted organizational scheme for long-term memory is the associative network model. In this model, information stored in long-term memory is organized as a series of connected nodes. Each node in the network represents a concept with links connecting the various concepts. The links between nodes represent beliefs about the connection between concepts. These links facilitate retrieval of information through a process known as spreading activation. Spreading activation moves information from long-term memory to working memory. When cued nodes are retrieved from memory, they activate linked nodes thereby weakly activating further nodes, and so forth. Repeatedly activated nodes are the most likely to be retrieved from long-term memory for use in political decision-making.

EVALUATING POLITICAL CANDIDATES: DOES WEIGHT MATTER?

Elmore, W., Vonnahme, E. M., Thompson, L., Filion, D., & Lundgren, J. D. (2015). Evaluating political candidates: Does weight matter? Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 1(3), 287-297.

We assessed the degree to which obesity affects political candidate evaluation using self-report and physiological assessments. Fifty-four participants were assigned to 1 of 4 experimental conditions that manipulated candidate body weight and sex. On the basis of participant self-report, male obese versus nonobese candidates were evaluated more positively (p < .01); in contrast, participants’ startle eyeblink responses when viewing males did not differ. No differences were noted for female candidates based on participant self-report, although significantly larger eyeblink responses (indicative of negative affect) were documented when viewing obese versus nonobese females (p < .01). Weight bias in political contexts exists, and bias against obese female candidates might be captured better by objective assessments. These findings suggest that the evaluation of political candidates, particularly female candidates, is likely influenced by voter perceptions about obesity in addition to the candidate’s political ideology.

SURVIVING SCANDAL: AN EXPLORATION OF THE IMMEDIATE AND LASTING EFFECTS OF SCANDAL ON CANDIDATE EVALUATION

Beth Miller Vonnahme. 2014. “Surviving Scandal: Exploring the Immediate and Lasting Effects of Scandal on Candidate Evaluation” , 95(5): 1308-1321.

Objective. This study explores the immediate and long-term effects of scandal on candidate evaluation. Because scandals involve politicians behaving in ways inconsistent with prevailing moral standards, an immediate negative reaction to such information is largely unavoidable. However, the present study examines whether there are any long-term effects of scandal. Methods. Results from a longitudinal experiment are presented. The nature of the design facilitated the exploration of the immediate and lasting effects of exposure to scandal and the consistency of these effects across individuals. Results. Exposure to scandalous information about a candidate had an immediate negative effect on evaluation, but the magnitude of this negative effect declined over time, especially among the candidate’s supporters. Conclusion. This research suggests that understanding the effects of scandal requires distinguishing between immediate and long-term effects.

AWW, SHUCKY DUCKY: VOTER RESPONSE TO ACCUSATIONS OF HERMAN CAIN'S ‘INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR'

Beth Miller Vonnahme and David Peterson. 2014. “Aww, Shucky Ducky: Voter Response to Accusations of Herman Cain's ‘Inappropriate Behavior.’” PS: Political Science and Politics, 47(2): 372-378.

The rapid deterioration of Herman Cain’s presidential campaign suggests that voters care about scandal. Extant research identifies a negative effect of scandal on the public’s attitudes toward political actors; however, motivated reasoning encourages biased processing of scandalous information such that individual-level predispositions, like partisanship, often moderate this negative reaction. A primary campaign poses a challenge for the motivated reasoning perspective, as partisanship cannot bias processing of scandalous information. Instead, we argue that one’s choice of media plays a role in whether one believes the allegations and thinks more negatively about Cain. To test these expectations, we examine support for Herman Cain over this two-month period among Republicans in Iowa. The results suggest that respondents did not react equally to the scandal.

FAILING TO RECALL: EXAMINING THE EFFECTS OF TRACE DECAY AND INTERFERENCE ON MEMORY FOR CAMPAIGN INFORMATION

Beth Miller Vonnahme. 2013. “Failing to Recall: Examining the Effects of Trace Decay and Interference on Memory for Campaign Information.” 34(3): 289-305.

Voters are continuously bombarded with information during political campaigns, yet a consistent conclusion from research on voter learning is that individuals remember far less information about political candidates than one might expect.  What remains unclear is why memory for campaign information is so poor.  The present study explores two explanations for memory failure.  Using an experimental design, I explore whether campaign information fades from memory (trace decay) or whether extraneous information impedes an individual's subsequent ability to recall campaign information (interference).  The results suggest that examining the ways in which the larger information environment influences recall of campaign information has important implications for the importance we attribute to campaign information in models of voter decision making.

CANDIDATE CUES AND VOTER CONFIDENCE IN AMERICAN ELECTIONS

Greg Vonnahme and Beth Miller Vonnahme. 2013. “Candidate Cues and Voter Confidence in American Elections.” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 23(2): 223-239.

This is a concise description of your previous work experience and the responsibilities you had. The most effective CVs give a clear snapshot of where you’re coming from and where you’re going in a way that’s easy for readers to scan and absorb quickly.

THE EFFECTS OF SCANDALOUS INFORMATION ON RECALL OF POLICY-RELATED INFORMATION

Miller, Beth. 2010. “The Effects of Scandalous Information on Recall of Policy-Related Information.” Political Psychology 31(6): 887-914.

Political psychologists have generally thought of information processing as proceeding through a series of stages: (1) exposure and attention, (2) comprehension, (3) encoding, interpretation, and elaboration, (4) organization and storage in memory, and (5) retrieval. Information processing models rely on two key structures for the processing of information: working memory and long-term memory. Working memory actively processes incoming information whereas long-term memory is the storage structure of the brain. The most widely accepted organizational scheme for long-term memory is the associative network model. In this model, information stored in long-term memory is organized as a series of connected nodes. Each node in the network represents a concept with links connecting the various concepts. The links between nodes represent beliefs about the connection between concepts. These links facilitate retrieval of information through a process known as spreading activation. Spreading activation moves information from long-term memory to working memory. When cued nodes are retrieved from memory, they activate linked nodes thereby weakly activating further nodes, and so forth. Repeatedly activated nodes are the most likely to be retrieved from long-term memory for use in political decision-making.

OBESITY AND CANDIDATE EVALUATION

Miller, Beth and Jennifer Lundgren. 2010. “An Experimental Study of the Role of Weight Bias in Candidate Evaluation.” Obesity, 18, 712-718.

Jennifer Lundgren and I focus on the effect of candidate obesity and gender on candidate evaluation. Participants were asked to read vignettes describing the political and biographic information of hypothetical candidates; each vignette was accompanied by a picture of the candidate. The vignettes were identical, except that we varied the candidates’ gender (male and female) and weight status (non-obese and obese). Our research suggests that female candidates are more susceptible to weight bias than male candidates. However, we do not find the same negative effect for male candidates. Obese male candidates did not face the same bias. In fact, obese male candidates were evaluated more positively than their non-obese counterparts.

ANGLO VOTING ON NATIVIST BALLOT INITIATIVES: THE PARTISAN IMPACT OF SPATIAL PROXIMITY TO THE BORDER OF MEXICO

Branton, Regina, Gavin Dillingham, Johanna Dunaway, and Beth Miller. 2007. “Anglo Voting on Nativist Ballot Initiatives: the Partisan Impact of Spatial Proximity to the Border of Mexico.” Social Science Quarterly, 88, 882-897.

In this study, we examine how contextual factors influence voting behavior on nativist ballot initiatives using California’s Propositions 187 and 227. We argue that spatial proximity to the border is associated with voting behavior on nativist initiatives. To examine the influence of environmental factors on Anglo voting behavior on nativist ballot initiatives, we utilize California Field Polls, U.S. Census data, and spatially referenced data generated using GIS software. The results indicate that spatial proximity to the border is an important component in individual-level voting on nativist initiatives and that the impact of proximity to the border on the vote for Propositions 187 and 227 varies as a function of individual-level partisan affiliation. Conclusions. These findings hold implications for future research regarding the influence of geospatial boundaries and political behavior.

VOTING AGAINST BILINGUAL EDUCATION: THE PARTISAN NATURE OF THE IMPACT OF SPATIAL PROXIMITY TO THE BORDER OF MEXICO

Branton, Regina, Gavin Dillingham, Johanna Dunaway, and Beth Miller. 2011. "Voting Against Bilingual Education: The Partisan Nature of the Impact of Spatial Proximity to the Border of Mexico." In David L. Leal (Ed.), The Politics of Latino Education. Teachers College Press: New York.

In this book chapter, we concentrate exclusively on bilingual education highlighting the role of political and contextual factors in guiding opposition to bilingual education.

EXPLORING THE ECONOMIC DETERMINANTS OF IMMIGRATION ATTITUDES

Miller, Beth. 2012. “Exploring the Economic Determinants of Immigration Attitudes.” Poverty and Public Policy 4(2).

This study explores the economic determinants of attitudes toward immigration across forty-seven countries. The extant research addressing public opinion on immigration tends to concentrate on Anglo attitudes toward immigrants in the United States or attitudes toward immigrants in Western Europe. Thus, empirical evidence currently draws from a limited pool including advanced industrial democracies. To more accurately and completely generalize statements regarding support for economic theories of self-interest in regards to immigration, cross-national research outside of the advanced industrial arena is necessary. Merging individual-level survey data from Pew’s Global Attitudes Project with country-level economic data, the study finds that self-assessed poverty plays a significant role in structuring immigration attitudes independent of the effect of objective measures of economic status (education, employment, and income). Further, national economic conditions also play a role in shaping immigration attitudes across countries.

HOW TO BE A PEER REVIEWER: A GUIDE FOR RECENT AND SOON-TO-BE PH.D.’S

Miller, Beth, Jon Pevehouse, Ron Rogowski, Dustin Tingley, and Rick Wilson. 2013. “How to be a Peer Reviewer: A Guide for Recent and Soon-to-be Ph.D.’s.” PS: Political Science and Politics 46(1): 120-123. Reprinted in PS: Political Science and Politics Virtual Issue 1 (2016) and Reprinted in Navigating Political Science: Professional Advancement & Success in the Discipline (2018).

In this guide, Jon Pevehouse, Ron Rogowski, Dustin Tingley, Rick Wilson and I provide a guide to the reviewing process and tips for being a good reviewer.

 

SAMPLE SYLLABI

The field of political psychology is an interdisciplinary field that draws on both psychology and political science to address topics in the political world. This course will focus on a variety of topics including inter-group conflict, stereotyping and prejudice, political socialization, attitude formation and change, political communication, decision heuristics and biases, public opinion, and the future of political psychology.

Explores public opinion in the United States, surveying theories and empirical research on the measurement, formation, and distribution of public opinion.

This course will examine the role of campaigns in determining the outcome of both congressional and presidential elections and the way that electoral rules structure both campaign strategies and electoral outcomes. This course focuses on topics such as the role of the media, campaign advertising, campaign financing, public opinion, registration requirements, and the role of interest groups.

 

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