How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives

By Chris Mooney [2] AlterNet [1] / March 19, 2012

Editor’s NoteThis essay draws upon Chris Mooney’s forthcoming book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality [3] (due out in April from Wiley), as well as his interviews with George Lakoff, [4] Jonathan Haidt [5] and Dan Kahan [6] on the Point of Inquiry podcast.

If you’re a liberal or a progressive these days, you could be forgiven for being baffled and frustrated by conservatives. Their views and actions seem completely alien to us—or worse.…the experts themselves—George Lakoff [Moral Politics], Jonathan Haidt [The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion ] and others–have different ways of explaining what they call conservatives’ “morality” or “moral systems.”…their work suggests that there really is a science of conservative morality, and it really is very different from liberal morality…Moral differences between left and right tend to draw the greatest amount of attention, and for good reason: They seem most directly implicated in policy disputes and the culture wars alike.

Another thing that you need to know at the outset about conservative “morality” is that it’s not at all the sort of thing that moral philosophers debate endlessly about. We’re not talking about a highly developed intellectual system for determining the way one ought to act, like deontology or utilitarianism.we’re talking about the deep-seated impulses that push conservatives (or liberals) to act in a certain way. These needn’t be “moral” or “ethical” at all, in the sense of maximizing human happiness, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number, adhering to a consistent set of rules and principles, and so on. Indeed, they may even be highly immoral by such standards—but there’s no denying that they are very real, and must be contended with.

The Science of Left-Right Morality

So how do conservatives think—and more important still, what do we know scientifically about how they think?
 
Lakoff’s system overlaps with Haidt’s in multiple places—most obviously when it comes to liberals showing broader empathy and wanting to care for those who are harmed (nurturing parent) and conservatives respecting authority (strict father)… Conservatives, in this scheme, tend towards the hierarchical and the individualistic; liberals tend toward the egalitarian and the communitarian…Egalitarians worry about fairness; communitarians about protecting the innocent from harm; hierarchs about authority and the group (and probably sanctity or purity—hierarchs tend toward the religious). Individualists are, basically, exercisers of the conservative version of freedom and liberty...what’s being called “morality” is emotional and, in significant part, automatic. It’s not about the conscious decisions you make about situations or policies—or at least, not primarily. Rather, the focus is on the unconscious impulses that shape how you think about situations before you’re even aware you’re doing so, and then guide (and bias) your reasoning.

This leads Lakoff and Haidt to strongly reject what you might call the “Enlightenment model” for thinking about reasoning and persuasion, and leads Kahan to talk about motivated reasoning [16], rather than rational or objective reasoning. Once again, these thinkers are essentially agreeing that because morality biases us long before consciousness and reasoning set in, factual and logical argument are not at all a good way to get us to change our behavior and how we respond

Progress is finally being made at understanding the emotional and cognitive roots of the culture war and our political dysfunction alike...Conservatives have insulted, defiled, and disobeyed the secular, rational, and Enlightenment legacy of the people who founded this country..When it comes to loyalty and unity in particular, liberals could stand to look in the mirror and try to be more…conservative. Not in their substantive policy views, but in their ability to act as a team with one purpose and one goal that cannot be compromised or weakened. Diversity is great for our society—but not for our objectives. And that means we have something to learn from conservatives: They may not know how to make America better, but they certainly know how to take a strong, united and moralistic stand in order to get what they want…

Full text

If you’re a liberal or a progressive these days, you could be forgiven for being baffled and frustrated by conservatives. Their views and actions seem completely alien to us—or worse. From cheering at executions [7], to wanting to “throw up” [8] over church-state separation, to seeking to “drown” government “in the bathtub” [9] (except when it is cracking down on porn, apparently) conservatives not only seem very different, but also very inconsistent.

Even the most well-read liberals and progressives can be forgiven for being confused, because the experts themselves—George Lakoff [4], Jonathan Haidt [5] and others–have different ways of explaining what they call conservatives’ “morality” or “moral systems.” Are we dealing with a bunch of die-hard anti-government types in their bunkers, or the strict father family? Are our intellectual adversaries free-market libertarians, or right-wing authoritarians—and do they even know the difference?

But to all you liberals I say, have hope: It’s not nearly so baffling as it may at first appear. Having interviewed many of these experts over the course of the last year, my sense is that despite coming from different fields and using different terminologies, they are saying many of the same things. Most important, their work suggests that there really is a science of conservative morality, and it really is very different from liberal morality. And there are key lessons to be drawn from this research about how to interact (and not interact) with our intellectual opponents.

That’s what I’m going to show—but first, let me first emphasize that morality isn’t the only way in which liberals and conservatives differ. They differ on a wide variety of traits–and it is not necessarily clear, as Jonathan Haidt recently put it to me [5], what’s the root of the flower, what’s the stem and what’s the leaves.

But set that aside for now. Moral differences between left and right tend to draw the greatest amount of attention, and for good reason: They seem most directly implicated in policy disputes and the culture wars alike.

Another thing that you need to know at the outset about conservative “morality” is that it’s not at all the sort of thing that moral philosophers debate endlessly about. We’re not talking about a highly developed intellectual system for determining the way one ought to act, like deontology or utilitarianism. We’re not paging Immanuel Kant or Jeremy Bentham.

Rather, we’re talking about the deep-seated impulses that push conservatives (or liberals) to act in a certain way. These needn’t be “moral” or “ethical” at all, in the sense of maximizing human happiness, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number, adhering to a consistent set of rules and principles, and so on. Indeed, they may even be highly immoral by such standards—but there’s no denying that they are very real, and must be contended with.

The Science of Left-Right Morality

So how do conservatives think—and more important still, what do we know scientifically about how they think?

Perhaps the earliest and most influential thinker into this fray was the Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, with his classic book Moral Politics [10] and many subsequent works (most recently, this item [11] at Huffington Post). Lakoff’s opening premise is that we all think in metaphors. These are not the kind of thing that English majors study, but rather real, physical circuits in the brain that structure our cognition, and that are strengthened the more they are used. For instance, we learn at a very early age how things go up and things go down, and then we talk about the stock market and individual fortunes “rising” and “falling”—a metaphor.

For Lakoff, one metaphor in particular is of overriding importance in our politics: The metaphor that uses the family as a model for broader groups in society—from athletic teams to companies to governments. The problem, Lakoff says, is that we have different conceptions of the family, with conservatives embracing a “strict father” model and liberals embracing a caring, empathetic and “nurturing” version of a parent.

The strict father family is like a free-market system, and yet also very hierarchical and authoritarian. It’s a harsh world out there and the father (the supreme and always male authority) is tough and will teach the kids to be tough, because there will be no one to protect them once the father is gone. The political implications are obvious. In contrast, the nurturing parent family emphasizes love, care and growth—and, so the argument goes, compassionate government control.

Lakoff has been extremely influential, but it’s important to also consider other scientific analyses of the moral systems of left and right. Enter the University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion [12] has just come out. In his own research, Haidt initially identified five (and more recently, six) separate moral intuitions that appear to make us feel strongly about situations before we’re even consciously aware of thinking about them; that powerfully guide our reasoning; and that differ strikingly from left and right.

Haidt’s first five intuitions, or “moral foundations,” are 1) the sense of needing to provide care and protect from harm; 2) the sense of what is just and fair; 3) the sense of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for a group; 4) the sense of obedience or respect for authority; and 5) the sense of needing to preserve purity or sanctity. And politically, Haidt finds that liberals tend to strongly emphasize the first two moral intuitions (harm and fairness) in their responses to situations and events, but are much weaker on emphasizing the other three (group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity). By contrast, Haidt finds that conservatives more than liberals respond to all five moral intuitions.

Indeed, multiple studies associate conservatism with a greater disgust reflex or sensitivity. In one telling experiment [13], subjects who were asked to use a hand wipe before answering questions, or to answer them near a hand sanitizer, gave more politically conservative answers. Haidt even told me in our interview [5] that when someone like Rick Santorum talks about wanting to “throw up,” that may indeed signal a strong disgust sensitivity.

More recently, Haidt and his colleagues added a sixth moral foundation: “Liberty/oppression.” Liberals and conservatives alike care about being free from tyranny, from unjust exertions of power, but they seem to apply this impulse differently. Liberals use it (once again) to stand up for the poor, the weak; conservatives use it to support the “don’t tread on me” fulminating against big government (and global government) of the Tea Party. This, incidentally, creates a key emotional bond between libertarians on the one hand, and religious conservatives on the other.

Haidt strives to understand the conservative perspective, and to walk a middle path between left and right—but he fully admits in his book that conservative morality is more “parochial.” Conservatives, writes Haidt, are more “concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” And Haidt further suggests that this is not his own view of what is ethical, writing that “when we talk about making laws and implementing public policies in Western democracies that contain some degree of ethnic and moral diversity, then I think there is no compelling alternative to utilitarianism.” It’s hard to see how thinking about the good of the in-group (rather than the good of everyone) could be considered very utilitarian.

But to my mind, here’s the really telling thing about all of this. When you get right down to it, Lakoff and Haidt seem to be singing harmony with each other. It’s not just that they could both be right—it’s that the large overlap between them strengthens both accounts, especially since the two researchers are coming from different fields and using very different methodologies and terminologies.

Lakoff’s system overlaps with Haidt’s in multiple places—most obviously when it comes to liberals showing broader empathy and wanting to care for those who are harmed (nurturing parent) and conservatives respecting authority (strict father). But the overlaps are larger still, for the strict father family is also an in-group and quite individualistic—in other words, prizing the conservative version of freedom or liberty.

What’s more, both of these systems are also consistent with a third approach that is growing in influence: The cultural cognition [14] theory being advanced by Yale’s Dan Kahan and his colleagues, which divides us morally [15] into “hierarchs” and “egalitarians” along one axis, and “individualists” and “communitarians” along another (helpful image here [15]). Conservatives, in this scheme, tend towards the hierarchical and the individualistic; liberals tend toward the egalitarian and the communitarian.

Throwing Kahan into the mix—and yes, he uses yet another methodology–we once again find great consistency with Lakoff and Haidt. Egalitarians worry about fairness; communitarians about protecting the innocent from harm; hierarchs about authority and the group (and probably sanctity or purity—hierarchs tend toward the religious). Individualists are, basically, exercisers of the conservative version of freedom and liberty.

Terminology aside, then, Lakoff, Haidt and Kahan seem to have considerably more grounds for agreement with each other than for disagreement, at least when it comes to describing what actually motivates political conservatives and political liberals.

And in fact, that’s just the beginning of the expert agreement. In all of these schemes, what’s being called “morality” is emotional and, in significant part, automatic. It’s not about the conscious decisions you make about situations or policies—or at least, not primarily. Rather, the focus is on the unconscious impulses that shape how you think about situations before you’re even aware you’re doing so, and then guide (and bias) your reasoning.

This leads Lakoff and Haidt to strongly reject what you might call the “Enlightenment model” for thinking about reasoning and persuasion, and leads Kahan to talk about motivated reasoning [16], rather than rational or objective reasoning. Once again, these thinkers are essentially agreeing that because morality biases us long before consciousness and reasoning set in, factual and logical argument are not at all a good way to get us to change our behavior and how we respond.

This is also a point I made recently, noting how Republicans become more factually wrong with higher levels of education [17]. Facts clearly don’t change their minds—if anything, they make matters worse! Lakoff, too, emphasizes how refuting a false conservative claim can actually reinforce it. And he doesn’t merely show why the Enlightenment mode of thinking is outdated; he also stresses that liberals are more wedded to it than conservatives, and this irrational rationalism lies at the root of many political failures on the left.

Getting Through

On the one hand, the apparent consensus among these experts is surely something to rejoice about. Progress is finally being made at understanding the emotional and cognitive roots of the culture war and our political dysfunction alike. But if all of this is really true—if conservatives and liberals have deep seated and automatic moral and emotional differences—then what should we do about it?

Here, finally, we do find real disagreement among the pros. Lakoff would have liberals combat conservative morality by shouting their own values from the rooftops, and never falling for conservative words and frames. Haidt would increase political civility by remaking our institutions of government to literally make liberals and conservatives feel empathetic bonds and the power of teamwork. And Kahan has done experiments [18] showing that talking about the same issue in different value laden “frames” leads to different outcomes. For instance, if you discuss dealing with global warming in an individualistic frame—by emphasizing the importance of free market approaches like nuclear power—then you open conservative minds, at least to an extent. We’ve got data on that.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the experts become dissonant as they move from merely describing conservative morality to outlining strategy. After all, there’s a heck of a lot more uncertainty involved when you start to prescribe courses of action aimed at achieving particular outcomes. Understanding conservatives in controlled experiments is one thing; trying to outline a communications strategy with Fox News around, ready to pounce, is another matter.

Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve been able to extract.

Clearly, you shouldn’t try to persuade your ideological opponents by citing threatening facts. Rather, if your goal is an honest give-and-take, you should demonstrate the existence of common ground and shared values before broaching anything controversial, and you should interact calmly and interpersonally. To throw emotion into the mix is to stoke automatic, moralistic, indignant responses.

Such are some scientific tips about trying to communicate and persuade–but liberals should not get overoptimistic about the idea of convincing conservatives to change their beliefs, much less their moral responses. There are far too many factors arrayed against this possibility at present—not just the deeply rooted and instinctive nature of moral intuitions, but our current political polarization, by parties and also by information channels.

You can’t have a calm, unemotional conversation when everything is framed as a battle, as it currently is. Our warfare over reality, and for control of the country, is just too intense. And in a “wartime” situation, conservative have their in-group preferences to naturally fall back on.

But if we merge together Lakoff and Haidt, then I think we do end up with some good advice for liberals who want to advance their own view of what is moral. On the one hand, they should righteously advance their own values, not conservative ones. But they should remain fully aware that these values are somewhat limited since, as Haidt shows, conservatives seem to have a broader moral palette.

To reach the political middle, then, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to demonstrate much more loyalty than liberals are used to emphasizing, and to show respect for authority as well—which doesn’t come so naturally to us. What authority should we respect? I suggest either the authority of president, or perhaps better yet, the authority of the Founding Fathers. Let’s face it: Conservatives have insulted, defiled, and disobeyed the secular, rational, and Enlightenment legacy of the people who founded this country (if you want to get moralistic about it).

When it comes to loyalty and unity in particular, liberals could stand to look in the mirror and try to be more…conservative. Not in their substantive policy views, but in their ability to act as a team with one purpose and one goal that cannot be compromised or weakened. Diversity is great for our society—but not for our objectives. And that means we have something to learn from conservatives: They may not know how to make America better, but they certainly know how to take a strong, united and moralistic stand in order to get what they want.

That’s an example that liberals could do worse than to follow.

See more stories tagged with:

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Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/chris-mooney
[3] http://republicanbrain.com/
[4] http://www.pointofinquiry.org/george_lakoff_enlightenments_old_and_new/
[5] http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/
[6] http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_american_culture_war_of_fact/
[7] http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/gop-debate-audience-cheers-perrys-execution-record/
[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/santorum-throw-up-jfk-kennedy-speech_n_1307214.html
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist#Views_on_government
[10] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226467716/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=chriscmooneyc-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0226467716
[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/santorum-strategy_b_1338708.html
[12] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307377903/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=chriscmooneyc-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307377903
[13] http://peezer.squarespace.com/storage/publications/journal-articles/Helzer%20Pizarro%20in%20press.pdf
[14] http://www.culturalcognition.net/
[15] http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2011/12/20/cultural-vs-ideological-cognition-part-1.html
[16] http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_great_ideological_asymmetry_debate/
[17] http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_–_and_reality/
[18] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1017189
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gop
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservatives-0
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/lakoff
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/morality-0
[23] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

37 Percent of People Don’t Have a Clue About What’s Going on

By Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2013  |

Excerpt

about 37 percent of Americans are just are not very bright. Or rather, quite shockingly dumb…reading anything even remotely complex or analytical is something only 42 percent of the population enjoy doing on a regular basis, which is why most TV shows, all reality shows, many major media blogs and all of Fox News is scripted for a 5th-grade education/attention spanThe smarter you are, the less rigid/more liberal you become…How to reach the not-very-bright hordes, when they simply refuse to be reached by logic, fact, or modern mode? …In the wealthiest and most egomaniacal superpower in the world, why is the chasm so wide?…There is no easy answer… the discussion itself is, by nature, elitist, exclusionary, requiring fluid, abstract thinking the very people we’re discussing simply do not possess, and therefore cannot participate in…It is not enough to say people believe what they want to believe. They will also believe it in the face of irrefutable counter-evidence and millennia of fundamental proof.

Full text

Six percent of Americans believe in unicorns. Thirty-six percent believe in UFOs. A whopping 24 percent believe dinosaurs and man hung out together. Eighteen percent still believe the sun revolves around the Earth. Nearly 30 percent believe cloud computing involves… actual clouds. A shockingly sad 18 percent, to this very day, believe the president is a Muslim. Aren’t they cute? And Floridian?

Do you believe in angels? Forty-five percent of Americans do. In fact, roughly 48 percent – Republicans and Democrats alike – believe in some form of creationism. A hilariously large percent of terrified right-wingers are convinced Obama is soon going to take away all their guns, so when the Newtown shooting happened and 20 young children were massacred due to America’s fetish for, obsession with and addiction to firearms, violence and fear, they bought more bullets. Because obviously.

In sum and all averaged out, it’s safe to say about 37 percent of Americans are just are not very bright. Or rather, quite shockingly dumb. Perhaps beyond reach. Perhaps beyond hope or redemption. Perhaps beyond caring about anything they have to say in the public sphere ever again. Sorry, Kansas.

Did you frown at that last paragraph? Was it a terribly elitist and unkind thing to say? Sort of. Probably. But I’m not sure it matters, because none of those people are reading this column right now, or any column for that matter, because reading anything even remotely complex or analytical is something only 42 percent of the population enjoy doing on a regular basis, which is why most TV shows, all reality shows, many major media blogs and all of Fox News is scripted for a 5th-grade education/attention span. OMG LOL kittens! 19 babies having a worse day than you. WTF is up with Justin Timberlake’s hair [3]?!?

It is this bizarre, circular, catch-22 kind of question, asked almost exclusively by intellectual liberals because intellectual conservatives don’t actually exist, given how higher education leads to more developed critical thinking (you already know the vast majority of university professors and scientists identify as Democrat/progressive, right?) which leads straight to a more nimble, open-minded perspective. In short: The smarter you are, the less rigid/more liberal you become.

Until you get old. Or rich. And scared. And you forget. And you clamp down, seize up, fossilize. And the GOP grabs you like a mold.

Oh right! The question: How to reach the not-very-bright hordes, when they simply refuse to be reached by logic, fact, or modern mode? How to communicate obvious and vital truths (conservation, global warming, public health [4], sexuality, basic nutrition, religion as parable/myth, the general awfulness of Mumford & Sons) the lack of understanding of which keep the country straggling and embarrassing, the laughingstock of the civilized world?

And who are these people, exactly? And are they all really in Kentucky and Florida and Mississippi? Are they all in the Tea Party? Is failing education to blame? A dumbed-down media? Reality TV? In the wealthiest and most egomaniacal superpower in the world, why is the chasm so wide?

There is no easy answer, but there is a great deal of irony. It is a wicked conundrum that you and I can debate the definition of elitism, whether or not it’s fair to criticize those who believe that, say, gay marriage means kids will be indoctrinated into homosexuality, or that evolution is still a theory, or that Jesus literally flew up out of a cave and into the sky, when the discussion itself is, by nature, elitist, exclusionary, requiring fluid, abstract thinking the very people we’re discussing simply do not possess, and therefore cannot participate in.

Discussion of elitism is elitist. Intelligence can talk itself blue about what to do about all the dumb; the dumb will never hear it.

It’s a fact even recognized by Louisiana’s own Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had the nerve to defy his own state’s (and his own party’s) famously low IQ by saying, after the last election, “The GOP must stop being the stupid party [5]. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.”

Of course he’s right. But where would that leave their base? And who will tell the megachurches? And does Jindal not know Louisiana is where they teach that the existence of the Loch Ness monster is evidence that evolution is a lie [6]?

Brings to mind a stunning study about facts and truths. Have you ever heard it? It goes something like: Here is hard evidence, scientific evidence, irrefutable proof that something is or is not true. Here is dinosaur bone, for example, which we know beyond a doubt is between 60 and 70 million years old. Amazing! Obviously!

But then comes the impossible snag: If you are hard-coded to believe otherwise, if your TV network or your ideology, your pastor or your lack of education tell you differently, you will still not believe it. No matter what. No matter how many facts, figures, common senses slap you upside the obvious. You will think there is conspiracy, collusion, trickery afoot. The Bible says that bone is only eight thousand years old. Science is elitist. Liberals hate God.The end.

It is not enough to say people believe what they want to believe. They will also believe it in the face of irrefutable counter-evidence and millennia of fundamental proof.

This! This is what stuns and stupefies liberals and progressives of every intellectual stripe. We cannot understand. We cannot compute. We think, “Well, if more people just had the facts, just heard a reasonable and cogent argument or read up on the real science, surely they would change their minds? Surely they would see the error in their thinking?”

Oh, liberals. All those smarts, and still so naïve.

Here is the body of Jesus! We found it! In a cave in a hole deep in an iron-gated alcove beneath the Vatican! Turns out he is not the Messiah after all! Turns out – look at those tribal tattoos! Those mala beads! That blond hair! – he’s a wild non-dualist guru from parts unknown. Christianity is a total fabrication! Always has been, always will be.

Here is hard evidence coupled with an ocean of common sense that more guns equal only more violence and death! Stat after stat, mass shooting after mass shooting proving we have it all wrong about protection and fear. Also! At least 2,605 people have died by gun violence [7] in America since the Newtown shooting. Can we ban them now? No [8]?

Here is overwhelming evidence that global warming is ravaging us like a furious god, and not only are we complicit, not only have we blindly raced forth into the abyss, we are, if all goes according to current trends and speeds and attitudes, totally f–king doomed [9].

Ah, unicorns. You look better every day.

© 2013 The San Francisco Chronicle

See more stories tagged with:

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/education/37-percent-people-dont-have-clue-about-whats-going

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/mark-morford
[2] http://www.11points.com/News-Politics/11_Things_Americans_Wrongly_and_Frighteningly_Believe
[3] http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/wtf-is-going-on-with-justin-timberlakes-hair
[4] http://www.foodpolitics.com/2013/03/daily-news-op-ed-bloombergs-soda-ban-should-be-only-the-beginning/
[5] http://swampland.time.com/2013/01/25/bobby-jindal-weve-got-to-stop-being-the-stupid-party/#ixzz2NGpxGlV4
[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/louisiana-students-loch-ness-monster-disprove-evolution_n_1624643.html
[7] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html
[8] http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/07/us/georgia-gun-requirement/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn
[9] http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/03/were-screwed-11-000-years-worth-of-climate-data-prove-it/273870/
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/elitism
[11] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The Surprising Brain Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

By Chris Mooney, Mother Jones,  February 15, 2013 author of 2012 book The Republican Brain.

Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis….the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative…  that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition… Peter Hatemi: nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways… thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain…Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes…

Full text

Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis.

It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person’s political beliefs, even in part, to that person’s biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else.

There’s just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data).

The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes.

First, in the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” as she puts it.

I interviewed the paper’s lead author, Peter Hatemi, about his research for my 2012 book The Republican Brain. Hatemi is both a political scientist and also a microbiologist, and as he stressed to me, “nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways.

And if Hatemi’s and McDermott’s research blows your mind, get this: Darren Schreiber, a political neuroscientist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, first performed brain scans on 82 people participating in a risky gambling task, one in which holding out for more money increases your possible rewards, but also your possible losses. Later, cross-referencing the findings with the participants’ publicly available political party registration information, Schreiber noticed something astonishing: Republicans, when they took the same gambling risk, were activating a different part of the brain than Democrats.

Republicans were using the right amygdala, the center of the brain’s threat response system. Democrats, in contrast, were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one’s feelings. Amazingly, Schreiber and his colleagues write that this test predicted 82.9 percent of the study subjects’ political party choices—considerably better, they note, than a simple model that predicts your political party affiliation based on the affiliation of your parents.

I also interviewed Schreiber for The Republican Brain. He’s a scientist who was once quite cautious about the relevance of brain studies to people’s politics. As he put it to me: “If you had called me four years ago and said, ‘What is your view on whether Republicans and Democrats have different brains?’ I would have said no.” Now, his own published research suggests otherwise.

One again, though, there’s a critical nuance here. Schreiber thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. The causal arrow seems likely to run in both directions—which would make sense in light of what we know about the plasticity of the brain. Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes.

The two new studies described here are likely connected: It is hard not to infer that fear of outsiders or those different from you—along with greater fear dispositions in general—may be related to the role of amygdala, a brain structure that has been dubbed the “heart and soul of the fear system.” The amygdala has been repeatedly implicated in politics. Indeed, Schreiber’s research builds on prior brain studies: In a group of University College of London students, for instance, conservatives showed more gray matter in the right amygdala.

So what’s the upshot? How about this: We need a much broader and more thoughtful discussion about what it means if political ideology turns out to be nothing like what we actually thought it was. Scientists working in this new field tend towards the conclusion that the new research should make us more tolerant, not less, of political difference—not to mention a whole lot more humble about our own deeply held beliefs.

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/brain-difference-democrats-republicans

Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control?

By Bruce E. Levine [2] AlterNet [1] / October 11, 2012

Excerpt

What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism! — psychologist B.F. Skinner

The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals….

[Noam Chomsky and Lewis Mumford said] society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy...Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects…, there is an insidious incentive for control-freaks in society

The Anti-Democratic Nature of Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”…

In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.

What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society….

Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society…How, in a democratic society, do children become ethical and caring adults? They need a history of being cared about, taken seriously, and respected, which they can model and reciprocate…

Full text

What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism! — psychologist B.F. Skinner

The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.

In psychologist B.F. Skinner’s best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity [3] (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.

During the height of Skinner’s fame in the 1970s, it was obvious to anti-authoritarians such as Noam Chomsky (“The Case Against B.F. Skinner” [4]) and Lewis Mumord that Skinner’s worldview—a society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy. In Skinner’s novel Walden Two (1948), his behaviorist hero states, “We do not take history seriously”; to which Lewis Mumford retorted, “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviorist utopia.”

As a psychology student during that era, I remember being embarrassed by the silence of most psychologists about the political ramifications of Skinner and behavior modification.

In the mid-1970s, as an intern on a locked ward in a state psychiatric hospital, I first experienced one of behavior modification’s staple techniques, the “token economy.” And that’s where I also discovered that anti-authoritarians try their best to resist behavior modification. George was a severely depressed anti-authoritarian who refused to talk to staff but, for some reason, chose me to shoot pool with. My boss, a clinical psychologist, spotted my interaction with George, and told me that I should give him a token—a cigarette—to reward his “prosocial behavior.” I fought it, trying to explain that I was 20 and George was 50, and this would be humiliating. But my boss subtly threatened to kick me off the ward. So, I asked George what I should do.

George, fighting the zombifying effects of his heavy medication, grinned and said, “We’ll win. Let me have the cigarette.” In full view of staff, George took the cigarette and then placed it into the shirt pocket of another patient, and then looked at the staff shaking his head in contempt.

Unlike Skinner, George was not “beyond freedom and dignity.” Anti-authoritarians such as George—who don’t take seriously the rewards and punishments of control-freak authorities—deprive authoritarian ideologies such as behavior modification from total domination.

Behavior Modification Techniques Excite Authoritarians

If you have taken introductory psychology, you probably have heard of Ivan Pavlov’s “classical conditioning” and B.F. Skinner’s “operant conditioning.”

An example of Pavlov’s classical conditioning? A dog hears a bell at the same time he receives food; then the bell is sounded without the food and still elicits a salivating dog. Pair a scantily-clad attractive woman with some crappy beer, and condition men to sexually salivate to the sight of the crappy beer and buy it. The advertising industry has been utilizing classical conditioning for quite some time.

Skinner’s operant conditioning? Rewards, like money, are “positive reinforcements”; the removal of rewards are “negative reinforcements”; and punishments, such as electric shocks, are labeled in fact as “punishments.” Operant conditioning pervades the classroom, the workplace, and mental health treatment.

Skinner was heavily influenced by the book Behaviorism (1924) by John B. Watson. Watson achieved some fame in the early 1900s by advocating a mechanical, rigid, affectionless manner in child rearing. He confidently asserted that he could take any healthy infant and, given complete control of the infant’s world, train him for any profession. When Watson was in his early forties, he quit university life and began a new career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.

Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.

Who are Easiest to Manipulate?

Those who rise to power in the corporatocracy are control freaks, addicted to the buzz of power over other human beings, and so it is natural for such authorities to have become excited by behavior modification.

Alfie Kohn, in Punished by Rewards (1993), documents with copious research how behavior modification works best on dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people. And so for authorities who get a buzz from controlling others, this creates a terrifying incentive to construct a society that creates dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people.

Many of the most successful applications of behavior modification have involved laboratory animals, children, or institutionalized adults. According to management theorists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in Work Redesign (1980), “Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease.”

Similarly, researcher Paul Thorne reports in the journal International Management (“Fitting Rewards,” 1990) that in order to get people to behave in a particular way, they must be “needy enough so that rewards reinforce the desired behavior.”

It is also easiest to condition people who dislike what they are doing. Rewards work best for those who are alienated from their work, according to researcher Morton Deutsch (Distributive Justice, 1985). This helps explain why attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-labeled kids perform as well as so-called “normals” on boring schoolwork when paid for it (see Thomas Armstrong’s The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, 1995). Correlatively, Kohn offers research showing that rewards are least effective when people are doing something that isn’t boring.

In a review of the literature on the harmful effects of rewards, researcher Kenneth McGraw concluded that rewards will have a detrimental effect on performance under two conditions: “first, when the task is interesting enough for the subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious.”

Kohn also reports that at least ten studies show rewards work best on simplistic and predictable tasks. How about more demanding ones? In research on preschoolers (working for toys), older children (working for grades) and adults (working for money), all avoided challenging tasks. The bigger the reward, the easier the task that is chosen; while without rewards, human beings are more likely to accept a challenge.

So, there is an insidious incentive for control-freaks in society—be they psychologists, teachers, advertisers, managers, or other authorities who use behavior modification. Specifically, for controllers to experience the most control and gain a “power buzz,” their subjects need to be infantilized, dependent, alienated, and bored.

The Anti-Democratic Nature of Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”

For Skinner, all behavior is externally controlled, and we don’t truly have freedom and choice. Behaviorists see freedom, choice, and intrinsic motivations as illusory, or what Skinner called “phantoms.” Back in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky exposed Skinner’s unscientific view of science, specifically Skinner’s view that science should be prohibited from examining internal states and intrinsic forces.

In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.

What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society.

Researcher Mark Lepper was able to diminish young children’s intrinsic joy of drawing with Magic Markers by awarding them personalized certificates for coloring with a Magic Marker. Even a single, one-time reward for doing something enjoyable can kill interest in it for weeks.

Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society. Kohn offers several studies showing “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are less cooperative and generous [children] than their peers.” Children of mothers who relied on tangible rewards were less likely than other children to care and share at home.

How, in a democratic society, do children become ethical and caring adults? They need a history of being cared about, taken seriously, and respected, which they can model and reciprocate.

Today, the mental health profession has gone beyond behavioral technologies of control. It now diagnoses noncompliant toddlers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and pediatric bipolar disorder and attempts to control them [5] with heavily sedating drugs. While Big Pharma directly profits from drug prescribing, the entire corporatocracy benefits from the mental health profession’s legitimization of conditioning and controlling.

Bruce E. Levine [6], a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His latest book is Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite [7]. His Web site is www.brucelevine.net [6]

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/why-are-americans-so-easy-manipulate-and-control

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bruce-e-levine
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyond_Freedom_and_Dignity
[4] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19711230.htm
[5] http://www.alternet.org/story/153634/7_reasons_america%27s_mental_health_industry_is_a_threat_to_our_sanity/?page=entire
[6] http://www.brucelevine.net/
[7] http://www.amazon.com/Get-Stand-Populists-Energizing-Corporate/dp/1603582983/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292688109&sr=1-8
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/psychiatry-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/consumer
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/authoritarianism
[11] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

“Spellcasters”: The Hunt for the “Buy-Button” in Your Brain

by WorldBusiness Academy, Published by T r u t h o u t .org, January 22, 2010

Editor’s Note: Truthout is joining with the World Business Academy in an effort to demonstrate popular opposition to the unethical practice of neuromarketing manipulation. Please visit the Stop Neuromarketing page to view a video and sign the petition.

Excerpt

Guard your reptilian brain. Corporations and politicians are trying to tap into it to use the latest brain research and sales techniques to influence your buying and voting patterns.
…Using a form of marketing known as neuromarketing, corporations and politicians are using MRIs, EEGs, and other brain-scan and medical technology to craft irresistible media messages designed to shift buying habits, political beliefs and voting patterns…

By measuring activity in different parts of the brain in response to an ad or other media message, advertisers and political consultants can create advertising campaigns that tap into the pre-conscious brain. The idea is to assess central nervous system response to certain ads, the better to skirt the viewers’ rational thought…

Clever and unscrupulous sales pitches are nothing new…but neuromarketing involves a degree of intrusiveness and manipulation that needs to be exposed and stopped

Neuromarketing undermines our core democratic values of freedom and self-determination. No wonder the practice is still largely in the closet. Most companies and political parties do not want to become known as master manipulators, whether they’re selling a consumer product or a political candidate. But just this week, Bark Group Inc., a multinational European advertising company, issued a release about neuromarketing technology that Bark is developing with a brain research firm MindMetric, to produce ad campaigns that will create a stronger emotional response in consumers…

Powerful and well-funded corporate interests already wield too much political power…

Congress should hold hearings to investigate the commercial and political uses of neuromarketing so the public can learn what companies and political candidates are using neuromarketing research to manipulate consumers’ and voters’ choices. The Democratic and Republican parties and all 2010 political candidates should disclose their neuromarketing research and expenditures. The public should demand that companies pledge not to use neuromarketing or other unethical marketing techniques.

That you, the reader, take action is more important now than ever in light of this week’s Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend as much as they want to influence voters in federal elections. The decision wipes out a century of law that somewhat curbed the power of corporate money over Congress. If not countered by determined citizens fighting back, it could spell the end of our 200-year experiment with democracy…

Full Text

Guard your reptilian brain. Corporations and politicians are trying to tap into it to use the latest brain research and sales techniques to influence your buying and voting patterns.
The idea is this: you have three brains, the new brain that thinks, the middle brain that feels and the old brain that decides. The old brain (also called the “reptilian brain” because it dates back 450 million years and is like reptiles’ brains today) is focused on survival. It is the gatekeeper that controls what gets to the other two brains.
Using a form of marketing known as neuromarketing, corporations and politicians are using MRIs, EEGs, and other brain-scan and medical technology to craft irresistible media messages designed to shift buying habits, political beliefs and voting patterns, as described in the World Business Academy’s video “Spellcasters.”
By measuring activity in different parts of the brain in response to an ad or other media message, advertisers and political consultants can create advertising campaigns that tap into the pre-conscious brain. The idea is to assess central nervous system response to certain ads, the better to skirt the viewers’ rational thought.
Since the dawn of commerce, sellers have tried to figure out how to best pitch their wares, grab attention and close the deal. Sales pitches have always been designed to create a willing buyer, often by creating needs and wants and then offering up a new product to satisfy them.
Clever and unscrupulous sales pitches are nothing new. They helped create a nation of smokers until litigation revealed that tobacco companies hid known risks. The court cases led to big damage awards, new warning requirements and, finally, fewer smokers.
The use of music, images and emotion to manipulate the consumer and voter is also nothing new. But neuromarketing involves a degree of intrusiveness and manipulation that needs to be exposed and stopped. Consumers pushed back when advertisers turned to subliminal advertising – the practice of flashing an image for a tiny fraction of a second, too fast for the cognitive brain to process. It’s time to push back again.
Neuromarketing is sometimes defined to include not just the use of brain scanners, but also the use of eye tracking and skin sensors to assess the power of an image or media communication. Whether or not there is any bright line that divides appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology to get inside people’s heads in the figurative sense, here is a stand we should take and fight to hold: technology that literally gets inside people’s heads in an attempt to circumvent their rational thought and animate their preconscious brain is unethical and unacceptable. Brain scanners go too far. Marketing and public relations firms should be limited to tools that measure the external manifestations of people’s reactions to media messages.
Neuromarketing undermines our core democratic values of freedom and self-determination. No wonder the practice is still largely in the closet. Most companies and political parties do not want to become known as master manipulators, whether they’re selling a consumer product or a political candidate. But just this week, Bark Group Inc., a multinational European advertising company, issued a release about neuromarketing technology that Bark is developing with a brain research firm MindMetric, to produce ad campaigns that will create a stronger emotional response in consumers.
Spooked? If you aren’t, you should be.
Powerful and well-funded corporate interests already wield too much political power. If neuromarketing catches on as a favorite tool of politicians and their masters, 2010 will make the totalitarian mind control games described in George Orwell’s frightening book, “1984,” look like child’s play. Big Brother is watching you.
Congress should hold hearings to investigate the commercial and political uses of neuromarketing so the public can learn what companies and political candidates are using neuromarketing research to manipulate consumers’ and voters’ choices. The Democratic and Republican parties and all 2010 political candidates should disclose their neuromarketing research and expenditures. The public should demand that companies pledge not to use neuromarketing or other unethical marketing techniques.
That you, the reader, take action is more important now than ever in light of this week’s Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend as much as they want to influence voters in federal elections. The decision wipes out a century of law that somewhat curbed the power of corporate money over Congress. If not countered by determined citizens fighting back, it could spell the end of our 200-year experiment with democracy.
The fact that 72% or more of the U.S. economy is consumer-controlled means that we can – and must – use our dollars to impact corporate decision making, or all is lost. People must put their money where their values are, and corporate America will listen – because our purchases make their cash registers ring. We may have lost tremendous power at the ballot box but we can control society from the cash register.
There is one shining example where a depressed minority in America without the right to vote, opposed by every formal institution in society, channeled consumer spending to change the political course of our nation’s history. That was the grape boycott in the 1960s led by migrant farm workers and Cesar Chavez who said, “please do not buy grapes, so we can live without being subjected to toxic pesticides and inhuman working conditions.” American consumers responded with their dollars and history was changed forever.
That example of consumer power does not apply only to disenfranchised political minorities. It is the beacon we must follow if we are to save our free will and the legitimacy of our electoral system.
Almost two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson warned about the power of “moneyed corporations” to distort good government. He wrote about his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Sign the neuromarketing petition. The World Business Academy will keep a public record of those companies that pledge not to use neuromarketing. Those are the ones you want to do business with. Your choice to be individually responsible matters now more than ever. It’s time to put your money where your values are.

About the Authors:
Rinaldo Brutoco is a well-known futurist and the founding president of the World Business Academy, a nonprofit think tank launched in 1987 with the mission to educate and inspire the business community to take responsibility for the whole of planetary society. He is a frequent public speaker and a prolific author on renewable energy, climate change and sustainable business strategies. He is the co-author of “Freedom from Mid-East Oil” (2007), a leading book on energy and climate change, and “Profiles in Power” (1997) a college textbook on nuclear power and the dawn of the solar age.
Madeleine Austin is vice president of the World Business Academy; editor of the World Business Academy’s 2007 book, “Freedom from Mid-East Oil,” and a member of the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum. She is the co-author with Rinaldo Brutoco of “The Nuclear Nemesis”  (ABA, Trends May/June 2008) and “The Nuclear Nemesis Redux” (Forum CSR International, Dec. 2008).

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

The Fascinating Differences Between The Conservative and Liberal Personality

Psychotherapy Networker By Jared DeFife, Alternet.org, August 20, 2012

Excerpt

…Personality differences are a leading candidate in the race toward understanding the rift between political liberals and conservativestwo common personality traits reliably differentiated individuals with liberal or conservative identifications. Liberals reported greater openness, whereas conservatives reported higher conscientiousness. This means that liberals (at least in their own estimation) saw themselves as more creative, flexible, tolerant of ambiguity, and open to new ideas and experiences. Across the political personality divide, conservatives self-identified as more persistent, orderly, moralistic, and methodical… similar findings on personality and political ideology have emerged in samples across the globe, from North America, Europe, and Australia…Liberals may show greater tolerance for diversity and creativity, but they may also be more impulsive, indecisive, and irresponsible. On the flip side, conservatives may be organized, stable, and thrifty, but also have stronger just-world beliefs (leading to a greater tolerance for inequality), and stronger fears of mortality and ambiguity…Brain scans revealed a larger amygdala in self-identified conservatives and a larger anterior cingulate cortex in liberals, leading the researchers to conclude that conservatives may be more acute at detecting threats around them, whereas liberals may be more adept at handling conflicting information and uncertainty…Other findings implicative for psychotherapy suggest that liberals and conservatives conceptualize different values in their family narratives, and that individuals fail to empathize completely with the nonpolitical concerns and problems of others if they’re perceived as belonging to an opposing political party…

Full text

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin,” laments Linus van Pelt in a 1961 Peanuts comic strip. Yet in today’s hyperpartisan political climate, religion and politics are obsessively debated, while the “American people” that politicians and reporters constantly refer to seem hopelessly divided. Meanwhile, psychologists are increasingly exploring the political arena, examining not just the ideological differences, but also the numerous factors – temperamental, developmental, biological, and situational – that contribute to the formation and maintenance of partisan political beliefs.

Personality differences are a leading candidate in the race toward understanding the rift between political liberals and conservatives. Using data compiled from nearly 20,000 respondents, Columbia University researcher Dana Carney and colleagues found that two common personality traits reliably differentiated individuals with liberal or conservative identifications. Liberals reported greater openness, whereas conservatives reported higher conscientiousness. This means that liberals (at least in their own estimation) saw themselves as more creative, flexible, tolerant of ambiguity, and open to new ideas and experiences. Across the political personality divide, conservatives self-identified as more persistent, orderly, moralistic, and methodical. These personality differences were even reflected in the bedroom belongings and offices or workspaces of ideological undergrads, with liberal students collecting more CDs, books, movie tickets, and travel paraphernalia, as opposed to their conservative peers, who showed more sports décor, U.S. flags, cleaning supplies, calendars, and uncomfortable furniture. Lest you think that the partisan personality is a uniquely American phenomenon, similar findings on personality and political ideology have emerged in samples across the globe, from North America, Europe, and Australia.

Evidence suggests that these personality differences between liberals and conservatives begin to emerge at an early age. A 20-year longitudinal study by Jack and Jeanne Block showed that those who grew up to be liberals were originally assessed by their preschool teachers as more emotionally expressive, gregarious, and impulsive when compared to those who became conservatives, who were considered more inhibited, uncertain, and controlled. Liberals may show greater tolerance for diversity and creativity, but they may also be more impulsive, indecisive, and irresponsible. On the flip side, conservatives may be organized, stable, and thrifty, but also have stronger just-world beliefs (leading to a greater tolerance for inequality), and stronger fears of mortality and ambiguity. Even recent neuroscience work published in Current Biology from University College London identifies fundamental differences in the partisan brain. Brain scans revealed a larger amygdala in self-identified conservatives and a larger anterior cingulate cortex in liberals, leading the researchers to conclude that conservatives may be more acute at detecting threats around them, whereas liberals may be more adept at handling conflicting information and uncertainty.

Some evidence suggests, however, that we aren’t always so divided. In situations that remind people of death and mortality (such as terrorist attacks or implicitly primed images of funeral hearses and chalk body outlines) conservatives and liberals alike gravitate toward more conservative leaders and beliefs. By contrast, greater acceptance of liberal values occurs during events in which people feel disillusioned by government authorities and the politically powerful (such as the Vietnam War or after the 2008 housing crisis).

Of course, the field of psychology isn’t immune to political biases and partisanship. Liberal psychology professors vastly outnumber their conservative counterparts by as much as 10 to 1 (perhaps conservatives have some justification for a general distrust of science and academia). A similar imbalance was found by Dyer Bilgrave and Robert Deluty in their 2002 survey of more than 200 clinical and counseling psychologists, published in the journal Psychotherapy. They also found that cognitive-behavioral therapists tended to hold more conservative religious and political beliefs than their more liberally oriented psychodynamic and humanistic-oriented colleagues. Other findings implicative for psychotherapy suggest that liberals and conservatives conceptualize different values in their family narratives, and that individuals fail to empathize completely with the nonpolitical concerns and problems of others if they’re perceived as belonging to an opposing political party.

No matter which side of the couch they sit on, therapists are inevitably bound to confront political and moral issues in treatment. In research, practice, and training, therapists are expected to achieve the kind of bipartisan collaboration that politicians seem to only talk about. According to Bilgrave and Deluty, “therapists should ask themselves regularly how their religious and political beliefs, values, and attitudes may be influencing their practice of therapy-how they see clients and their problems, how they help clients frame and understand their concerns, and how and in which direction they encourage clients to act.” But if our partisan personalities are deeply rooted in our early development and wired in our brains, is honest and thoughtful consideration of our own biases and predeterminations enough, or even possible? And when even your furniture choices betray your political persuasions, then what does your office tell patients about you?

Resources

Partisan Personality:

American Psychologist, 61, no. 7: 651-70; Current Biology, 21, no. 8: 677-80; Psychotherapy, 39, no. 3: 245-60.

 

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/fascinating-differences-between-conservative-and-liberal-personality

Links:
[1] http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/jared-defife
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservatives-0
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/liberals