Research Summary: Simplification and Shift in Cognition of Political Difference: Applying the Geometric Modeling to the Analysis of Semantic Similarity Judgment


Perceiving differences by means of spatial analogies is intrinsic to human cognition. Multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) analysis based on Minkowski geometry has been used primarily on data on sensory similarity judgments, leaving judgments on abstractive differences unanalyzed. Indeed, analysts have failed to find appropriate experimental or real-life data in this regard. Our MDS analysis used survey data on political scientists’ judgments of the similarities and differences between political positions expressed in terms of distance. Both distance smoothing and majorization techniques were applied to a three-way dataset of similarity judgments provided by at least seven experts on at least five parties’ positions on at least seven policies (i.e., originally yielding 245 dimensions) to substantially reduce the risk of local minima. The analysis found two dimensions, which were sufficient for mapping differences, and fit the city-block dimensions better than the Euclidean metric in all datasets obtained from 13 countries. Most city-block dimensions were highly correlated with the simplified criterion (i.e., the left–right ideology) for differences that are actually used in real politics. The isometry of the city-block and dominance metrics in two-dimensional space carries further implications. More specifically, individuals may pay attention to two dimensions (if represented in the city-block metric) or focus on a single dimension (if represented in the dominance metric) when judging differences between the same objects. Switching between metrics may be expected to occur during cognitive processing as frequently as the apparent discontinuities and shifts in human attention that may underlie changing judgments in real situations occur. Consequently, the result has extended strong support for the validity of the geometric models to represent an important social cognition, i.e., the one of political differences, which is deeply rooted in human nature.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 6-June-2011

Author(s): Kato J., Okada K.


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