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Skidmore College

Experiments beyond the sciences

May 24, 2017

When he was first a guest on This is Skidmore, political science professor Chris Mann discussed the then-upcoming presidential election and hinted about his students’ unique research that was to be performed during the semester. Now, on season two’s final episode of This is Skidmore, Mann was joined by three students to share their findings. 

Brent Azaert ’20, Brian Roberge ’18, and Antigone Scaperdas ’19 all enrolled in “Election Research” to further understand randomized experiments, research design, and statistical analysis. Each student crafted their own unique experiment and ended the semester presenting their results. Despite the course being offered in the political science department, Mann explained that it’s a learning opportunity across disciplines, welcoming guest speakers from other academic departments at Skidmore, including economics and sociology. “I wanted them to do projects that were interesting to them, not necessarily political. None of them are narrowly boring political science” Mann jokes.

On This is Skidmore, Azaert, Roberge, and Scaperdas describe their experience in Mann’s course, and the interesting results of their experiments. 

Azaert, a double major in business and psychology, was inspired by the polarizing political climate after the presidential election in November. “We went around to a local chain of convenience stores, and walked in wearing a pro-Trump, ‘impeach Trump,’ or plain grey shirt,” he explained. Azaert was interested to discover whether these shirt “treatments” would cause an employee to be more or less helpful when asked for assistance.

Both political science majors, Roberge and Scaperdas analyzed “priming,” the ability to sway a person based on images or language, but in very different ways. Roberge used the simple game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to analyze whether priming could change the way his opponents played their first hand. He played a total of 75 games against members of the Skidmore community, either with no priming, with a shirt that said “rock hound,” or with a script he developed, incorporating the word “rock” multiple times.

Rock paper scissors

Scaperdas had a much larger sample size, with over 300 subjects across the United States. She explained, “If we apply priming to try to change people’s opinions on social justice issues, we can really have huge effects on changes in policy and changes in politics.” Using an online survey system, Scaperdas primed respondents in the pre-survey demographics portion by offering some the ability to list their gender as male, female, genderfluid, or bi-gender, while others were asked if their biological gender matched their gender identity. Respondents were then asked to agree or disagree with a statement, on a one to five scale, based on a summary of Texas Senate Bill 6, also known as the “bathroom bill.”

Election Research is a 300-level course that Mann crafted based on his own research as well as graduate coursework. “It’s pretty cool as a freshman to take a 300-level class,” Azaert explained, “it was cool to do that so early on and have a better grasp of whether I like research or not.”

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