Friday, January 27, 2012

Conservatives and Liberals experience the world differently

When someone reacts to something conservatives say by asking what universe they exist in, the question may make sense beyond just being snark. Science is beginning to determine that liberals and conservatives really do live in different universes. This is a quick report from Wired.

Research has already shown that, compared to liberals, conservatives display heightened responses to threatening images. Michael Dodd of the University of Nebraska wanted to explore this in finer detail: He showed 46 left- or right-leaning Nebraskans a series of images alternately disgusting (spiders on faces, open wounds) and appealing (smiling children, cute rabbits.) Dodd's team found that conservatives reacted most strongly to negative images, and liberals most strongly to positive photographs.

Then he showed them pictures of well-known politicians. The same patterns held: Conservatives displayed more distaste than liberals for politicians they disliked, while liberals felt more positive than conservatives about politicians they liked. Given these and other findings, wrote Dodd's team, "those on the political right and those on the political left may simply experience the world differently."

That sounds pessimistic, but it doesn't have to be. It can be a healthy reminder that people with whom we disagree aren't stupid or irrational; they just have different perspectives.
Image: Each graph depicts the arousal response of conservatives (triangle dots) and liberals (square dots) to images that are disgusting or appealing (left set) and pictures of opposing politicians (right set). (Dodd et al./Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B)

Citation: "The political left rolls with the good and the political right confronts the bad: connecting physiology and cognition to preferences." By Michael D. Dodd, Amanda Balzer, Carly M. Jacobs, Michael W. Gruszczynski, Kevin B. Smith and John R. Hibbing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Vol. 367 No. 1589, March 5, 2012.

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