Looking at the brains of liberals, conservatives
October 5th, 2010
Your passionately-held political beliefs may stem from the way you physically perceive the worldâ€¦ but donâ€™t tell that to the politically passionate.
Liberals and conservatives experience the world in quite different ways. And that experience may explain and even lead to their political persuasion. That was the finding of a 2008 study conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist John Hibbing. The study was the topic of the Oct. 5 Science CafÃ© in Omaha â€“ a project of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It was also covered on the comedy news show, The Daily Show. And fake reporter Aasiv Mandvi may have said it best…
â€œHibbingâ€™s team thinks theyâ€™ve discovered the elusive political gene,â€ Mandvi said, â€œgiving hope to millions with this debilitating condition.â€ Mock-interviewing Hibbing, Mandvi said, straight-faced, â€œSo basically you come out of the womb and youâ€™re either for socialized medicine or youâ€™re for rich people?â€ Hibbing responded with a quick, â€œNo.
Hibbing goes on to say Mandvi wasâ€¦ over-simplifying. In the study, which was published in the journal Science, Hibbing and his team found conservatives are more likely to experience a strong visceral reaction to shocking images â€“ like people eating worms or emaciated bodies – than their liberal counterparts. Liberals experienced a stronger reaction to more pleasurable images â€“ like sunsets and happy couples.
â€œWherever they come from,â€ Hibbing said, â€œthese political beliefs seem to have become physiologically instantiated, whether its socialized or innate, people are inclined one way or another politically not just because of a few things that they think but rather because of how they experience and react to the world.â€
What does it mean? Well, Hibbing said some personality profiles have been done based on the research. They depict conservatives as more conscientious and liberals more open to new experiences. But no matter the depiction, Hibbing said the study doesnâ€™t go over well with people from either side of the aisle.
â€œI think itâ€™s fair to say weâ€™re pretty unpopular on both sides of the spectrum,â€ he said. â€œLiberals donâ€™t like the notion that there may be something fairly deep thatâ€™s difficult to change. They like to believe we can improve the human condition with this program or that idea. Conservatives are likely to think this is just some liberal academics who are out to make it sound like conservatives are somehow flawed.â€
Hibbing said the study could make people more tolerant, or at least more understanding. â€œPeople who disagree with you,â€ he said, may not just be â€œbullheaded and unwilling to face the facts.â€ The facts may just look quite different.
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