Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Negativity bias and political ideology

I've just received a reviewer's copy of an upcoming article in Brain and Behavioral Science in the vein of several MindBlog posts mentioning work on the brains of conservatives versus liberals: "Differences in Negativity Bias Underlie Variations in Political Ideology" by J. R. Hibbing, K.B. Smith, and John R. Alford. I thought MindBlog readers might be interested in their abstract:
Disputes between those holding differing political views are ubiquitous, deep-seated, and often follow common, recognizable lines, with the supporters of tradition and stability, sometimes referred to as conservatives, doing battle with the supporters of innovation and reform, sometimes referred to as liberals. Understanding the correlates of these distinct political orientations is likely a prerequisite for managing political disputes, a source of social conflict often leading to frustration and even bloodshed. A rapidly growing body of empirical evidence documents a multitude of ways in which liberals and conservatives differ from each other in purviews of life with little direct connection to politics, from tastes in art to desire for closure and from disgust sensitivity to the tendency to pursue new information, but the central theme of these differences is a matter of debate. In this article, we argue that one organizing element of the many differences between liberals and conservatives is the nature of their physiological and psychological responses to features of the environment that are negative. Compared to liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them. Operating from this point of departure, we suggest future approaches for refining understanding of the broad relationship between political views and response to the negative. We conclude with a discussion of normative implications, stressing that identifying differences across ideological groups is not tantamount to declaring one ideology superior to another.


  1. Anonymous1:18 PM

    I am wary of these sorts of studies. The how the results are presented always seem to frame things in ways that attach negative or positive bias to the findings.

    As for these particular findings, it is clear to me what they mean:

    Conservatives (in a general sense) have better functioning instincts for societal issues outside of taught or learned information. Thus when something is wrong they have a non-gray response.

    For liberals where there often is an impaired ability in the instinct areas, everything is a gray process that is processed by cognition only.

    Since academia is so dominated by activist liberals, the chances of anything like this every being even discussed is zero.

    Clearly not every working scientist is a liberal - or even political. But the research environment itself is so heavily politicized *within the research institutions themselves*, that anyone with conservative leanings will self-censor themselves so they won't be targeted by the liberal administration.

    I am in a position to know these things, and I have seen many papers held up with "negotiations" over how the results were interpreted. Those researchers who will not yield find their funding choked and chances of tenure zeroed out.

    There is NO place in science for political sensitivities on either side. It is completely abhorrent to the scientific method and it is hamstringing mankind's ability to work out our greatest issues.

    I propose an experiment that will never be allowed to happen:

    Take a 1000 sample size group of median income individuals (and who are not currently students or employees of a learning institution) between the ages of 21-31. Have the following tests done:

    Have an assisted personality survey done with a test designed to tease out known personality / sensory / behavior / etc traits of autistic spectrum issues. Rate each individual on a 100 point scale, proportional to the number of discrete AS traits each possesses.

    Then evaluate each for minor external physical malformations, such as non-symmetrical facial features, vision abnormalities, inner ear defects, etc. As above assign them a rating on a 100 point scale. This step would be designed to evaluate those who may have had adverse effects during the pregnancy or birth process.

    Now rate each individual's emotional quotient.

    Then you start doing your political testing, as well as testing of moral responses.

    I predict what you'll find is that the more neural and physical defects a person is rated to have, the more likely they vote straight line liberal.

    If this test were to be performed (which will never happen), the conclusions would be skewed in however way they needed to be to prevent the true results to be understood by the public.

    Such as: The findings show that those with problems can relate to the weak and underprivileged better. I see this sort of skewing in the "conclusions" all the time.

    I have seen many studies that purport to show that liberals are on average more intelligent than conservatives. If you go by standard IQ tests and educational levels, this is probably true.

    Clearly having autistic spectrum traits predisposes an individual to do better on logic puzzles and other standard measures of intelligence.

    But when it comes to *life* decisions across the entire spectrum of adult life, these AS trait people are less happy, show poorer recognition of other people's intent, judge social situations poorly, and generally show a child's view of the world.

    No research has been done in this direction for pretty obvious reasons: Don't ask a question you don't want the answer to.

    I myself think it would be the most relevant research that could be done: proving that the liberal's damaged ability to read social cues and judge intent and context accurately has a direct result in who and what they vote for.

  2. I'm not sure how doing a survey on correlations, say, between risk tolerance or ease of arousal to aversive stimuli and political views...and then reporting the results has to imply a positive or negative bias? If I see any bias here, it is your certainly about "the liberal's damaged ability to read social cues and judge intent..etc." I don't think your suggested correlations between mental and physical abnormalities and being liberal makes any sense.

  3. Anonymous2:22 PM

    Yet it is true. As for the bias I mentioned, it was in the wording of:

    Compared to liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them.

    Translated: See, science proves that conservatives are reactionary. Also, since it's hard wired there is no reasoning with them.

    If you did the study I suggested above on that same sample group they used for this study, you would find that the lack of hard responses would be shown as just another aspect of having neurological issues.

    But again, no wants this outcome, so the question will never be asked.

    I don't expect you to be able to accept any part of my arguments for the same reason you don't know what oxygen smells like.