2012 January 05 Thursday
Innate Staring Differences Between Liberals, Conservatives

Liberals are Panglossians. Conservatives expect bad things. Conservatives stare more at wounds while liberals stare more at fluffy bunnies.

From cable TV news pundits to red-meat speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire, our nation's deep political stereotypes are on full display: Conservatives paint self-indulgent liberals as insufferably absent on urgent national issues, while liberals say fear-mongering conservatives are fixated on exaggerated dangers to the country.

A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests there are biological truths to such broad brushstrokes.

In a series of experiments, researchers closely monitored physiological reactions and eye movements of study participants when shown combinations of both pleasant and unpleasant images. Conservatives reacted more strongly to, fixated more quickly on, and looked longer at the unpleasant images; liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at the pleasant images compared with conservatives.

"It's been said that conservatives and liberals don't see things in the same way," said Mike Dodd, UNL assistant professor of psychology and the study's lead author. "These findings make that clear quite literally."

Political leanings have a large innate component. This makes continued political conflict inevitable.

Beach balls and bunnies? Or open wounds and crashed cars?

To gauge participants' physiological responses, they were shown a series of images on a screen. Electrodes measured subtle skin conductance changes, which indicated an emotional response. The cognitive data, meanwhile, was gathered by outfitting participants with eyetracking equipment that captured even the most subtle of eye movements while combinations of unpleasant and pleasant photos appeared on the screen.

While liberals' gazes tended to fall upon the pleasant images, such as a beach ball or a bunny rabbit, conservatives clearly focused on the negative images of an open wound, a crashed car or a dirty toilet, for example.

Both Republicans and Democrats stare at Democrats more than at Republicans.

Consistent with the idea that conservatives seem to respond more to negative stimuli while liberals respond more to positive stimuli, conservatives also exhibited a stronger physiological response to images of Democratic politicians presumed to be a negative to them than they did on pictures of well-known Republicans. Liberals, on the other hand, had a stronger physiological response to the Democrats presumed to be a positive stimulus to them than they did to images of the Republicans.

Do these groups balance each other out in constructive ways? Or do they just make each other infuriated? Break the country up into conservative and liberal countries? Or keep them together in eternal political battle?

In the past when I've written posts about innate political differences inevitably someone has commented basically "so that's what's wrong with the other side". So I'm not optimistic that people are going to develop greater political tolerance by learning that political differences are partly innate.

Rather than believing those with opposite political views are uninformed or willfully obtuse, the authors said, political tolerance could be enhanced if it was widely understood that political differences are based in part on our physiological and cognitive differences.

Perhaps these two leanings were specializations of labor back in tribal days. That would have enabled them to remain evolutionarily stable and coexist in the gene pool.

Also see my previous posts Political Orientation Tied To Biological Reaction To Threats and Greater Disgust Response Associated With Political Right?

By Randall Parker    2012 January 05 10:09 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2010 October 27 Wednesday
Dopamine Gene Variant Predisposes To Liberalism

Blame genetic defects for the folly of your political opponents.

Liberals may owe their political outlook partly to their genetic make-up, according to new research from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University. Ideology is affected not just by social factors, but also by a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4. The study's authors say this is the first research to identify a specific gene that predisposes people to certain political views.

So is the liberal version of DRD4 a genetic defect or is the conservative version a genetic defect? Which version needs to be wiped out of the human race with offspring genetic engineering? Will wars be fought to control offspring genetic engineering practices? If such wars are fought which side will be evil?

Combine a specific variant of DRD4 with an active social life in adolescence and the risk of liberalism goes up. So then if you send your kids to a remote small town in adolescence can you compensate for that dangerous mutation they got from, say, your genetically defective ex-wife?

Appearing in the latest edition of The Journal of Politics published by Cambridge University Press, the research focused on 2,000 subjects from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. By matching genetic information with maps of the subjects' social networks, the researchers were able to show that people with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults, but only if they had an active social life in adolescence.

Imagine how many genetic influences on political beliefs and values will be found as genetic sequencing costs keep falling. The flood of genetic sequencing data is going to revolutionize the way we see human nature in the next decade. Then comes the Genetic Inquisition. Nobody expects the Genetic Inquisition (unless they read FuturePundit).

Novelty-seeking is a genetically driven risk factor for unrealistic political views that endanger the Republic?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter affecting brain processes that control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience pleasure and pain. Previous research has identified a connection between a variant of this gene and novelty-seeking behavior, and this behavior has previously been associated with personality traits related to political liberalism.

Lead researcher James H. Fowler of UC San Diego and his colleagues hypothesized that people with the novelty-seeking gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends' points of view. As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average. They reported that "it is the crucial interaction of two factors the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence that is associated with being more liberal." The research team also showed that this held true independent of ethnicity, culture, sex or age.

I'm still waiting for reports on the genetic factors that cause libertarianism and Objectivism. Also, what genetic defect causes some people to set their horns to beep when they lock their car? I want to call the Genetic Inquisition in on that one.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 27 10:43 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2010 June 09 Wednesday
Personality Plays Role In Political Orientation

Political views tend to flow from personality type.

TORONTO, ON - There is a strong relationship between a voter's politics and his personality, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

Researchers at UofT have shown that the psychological concern for compassion and equality is associated with a liberal mindset, while the concern for order and respect of social norms is associated with a conservative mindset.

"Conservatives tend to be higher in a personality trait called orderliness and lower in openness. This means that they're more concerned about a sense of order and tradition, expressing a deep psychological motive to preserve the current social structure," says Jacob Hirsh, a post-doctoral psychology student at UofT and lead author of the study.

How can someone's basic political orientation be the product of their genes if they are so certain that they rationally arrived at their political beliefs and preferences thru study and reasoning? That's an easy question to answer: People delude themselves about the role free will plays in making them what they are.

The study, which appears in this month's Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, may even lend some legitimacy to the term, 'bleeding-heart-liberal.'

"Our data shows that liberalism is more often associated with the underlying motives for compassion, empathy and equality," says Hirsh.

While some people think they formed their general political orientation thru reason genetics and innate cognitive tendencies play a large role in the formation of political orientations in humans

"People's values are deeply embedded in their biology and genetic heritage," says UofT Professor and co-author Jordan Peterson. "This means you have to take a deeper view of political values and morality in terms of where these motives are coming from; political preferences do not emerge from a simple rational consideration of the issues."

Once prospective parents gain the ability to select personality traits for their children will they choose, on average, to make their kids more conservative or liberal? Will people who are somewhere in between become more rare as people choose to create children who embrace the same values and even more emphatically than their parents do? Will the center fail to hold and will humans become divided into clashing camps which differ deeply and bitterly about values questions?

Update: Also see my post Moral Reasoning Done To Justify Intuitions?.

By Randall Parker    2010 June 09 10:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (57)
2009 October 28 Wednesday
Testosterone Drops In Guys Whose Candidate Loses

Feeling like a political loser? You probably have low testosterone.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Young men who voted for Republican John McCain or Libertarian candidate Robert Barr in the 2008 presidential election suffered an immediate drop in testosterone when the election results were announced, according to a study by researchers at Duke University and the University of Michigan.

I'm setting aside 2 seconds while I write this sentence to feel sympathy for guys who become so invested in a political candidate that their testosterone drops if their candidate loses. Really, you should focus on achieving for yourself, not depend on political candidates to give you a feeling of power. Though for lobbyists and or people with prospects of getting appointments or contracts from the winner the testosterone reaction is more rational.

Men who voted for Obama only had stable testosterone as a result. No boost in testosterone? What's with these guys?

In contrast, men who voted for the winner, Democrat Barack Obama, had stable testosterone levels immediately after the outcome.

Female study participants showed no significant change in their testosterone levels before and after the returns came in.

The men who participated in the study would normally show a slight night-time drop in testosterone levels anyway. But on this night, they showed a dramatic divergence: The Obama voters' levels didn't fall as they should, and the McCain and Barr voters lost more than would have been expected.

"This is a pretty powerful result," said Duke neuroscientist Kevin LaBar. "Voters are physiologically affected by having their candidate win or lose an election."

If you can't separate your feeling of well-being from outcomes of political elections then consider using testosterone replacement therapy after a loss. Heck, that might even make sense when losing in other ways. Lost money in the stock market? Take some T. Girlfriend dumped you? Time for T.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 28 10:59 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2009 June 04 Thursday
Disgusted People More Conservative

By some (though not all) measures, people who feel more easily disgusted are more conservative.

In the first study, published in the journal Cognition & Emotion (Vol.23: No.4), Pizarro and co-authors Yoel Inbar of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and Paul Bloom of Yale University surveyed 181 U.S. adults from politically mixed "swing states." They subjected these adults to two indexes: the Disgust Sensitivity Scale (DSS), which offers various scenarios to assess disgust sensitivity, and a political ideology scale. From this they found a correlation between being more easily disgusted and political conservatism.

To test whether disgust sensitivity is linked to specific conservative attitudes, the researchers then surveyed 91 Cornell undergraduates with the DSS, as well as with questions about their positions on issues including gay marriage, abortion, gun control, labor unions, tax cuts and affirmative action.

Participants who rated higher in disgust sensitivity were more likely to oppose gay marriage and abortion, issues that are related to notions of morality or purity. The researchers also found a weak correlation between disgust sensitivity and support for tax cuts, but no link between disgust sensitivity and the other issues.

I expect scientists will continue to discover more connections between genetically caused and congenital characteristics of the brain on the one hand, and political leanings, moral beliefs, and social behaviors on the other. Ditto for economic behaviors such as one's willingness to save for the future or gamble.

These discoveries about innate causes of beliefs and behavior will have opposing effects on political debate. On the one hand some might introspect and decide not to put as much stock in their feelings about what is right. Why believe something just because you were born with a propensity to believe it? On the other hand, a lot of people will think their political beliefs are rational and sensible but the opposing side is obviously wrong due to that opposing side being born mentally defect and prone to being wrong and even evil.

Take the study above for example. I can hear some liberals thinking "See, this shows that conservatives are wrong on gay marriage because they have irrational reactions to the thought of it". Evidence of a behavior's inherited cause can easily be seen as evidence that some group is defective. If you just do not happen to have the same genetic leanings as they do then you are genetically blessed with the ability to see the world accurately - unlike the hell spawn on the opposing side.

Another study released back in July 2008 found genes influence the odds one will vote or engage in political activities.

The decision to vote is partly genetic, according to a new study published in the American Political Science Review. The research, by James H. Fowler and Christopher T. Dawes, of the University of California, San Diego and Laura A. Baker, of the University of Southern California, is the first to show that genes influence participation in elections and in a wide range of political activities. See the full study here.

Fowler and Dawes have followed this work with research just published in the July issue of the Journal of Politics in which they identify a link between two specific genes and political participation. They show that individuals with a variant of the MAOA gene are significantly more likely to have voted in the 2000 presidential election. Their research also demonstrates a connection between a variant of the 5HTT gene and voter turnout, which is moderated by religious attendance. These are the first results ever to link specific genes to political behavior. The published study will be online July 1, but a pre-publication PDF is linked here.

Other aspects of political behavior appear to have genetic influences as well.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 04 11:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
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