Politics on your mind?

| 169 Comments

The Seattle Times has an interesting article on the link between political views and the brain

In a study likely to raise the hackles of some conservatives, scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a specific region of the brain’s cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberals than in self-declared conservatives.

Based on the findings we can make some predictions

Based on the results, Sulloway said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

Or alternatively, conservatives will be less ready to accept new scientific ideas.

Imagine that

Well now we understand

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times more likely than conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts and were 2.2 times more likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

The study follows an earlier study based on a meta-analysis of various data sources:

The most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date is a 2003 meta-analysis of 88 prior studies involving 22,000 participants. The researchers—John Jost of NYU, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway of Berkeley—found that conservatives have a greater desire to reach a decision quickly and stick to it, and are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, orderliness, duty, and rule-following. Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.

The study’s authors also concluded that conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity, a trait they say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, “Look, my job isn’t to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think,” and “I’m the decider.” Those who think the world is highly dangerous and those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative.

Liberals, on the other hand, are “more likely to see gray areas and reconcile seemingly conflicting information,” says Jost. As a result, liberals like John Kerry, who see many sides to every issue, are portrayed as flip-floppers. “Whatever the cause, Bush and Kerry exemplify the cognitive styles we see in the research,” says Jack Glaser, one of the study’s authors, “Bush in appearing more rigid in his thinking and intolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity, and Kerry in appearing more open to ambiguity and to considering alternative positions.”

Psychology Today

The research paper can be found Online although it may take a liberal to actually locate it :-)

169 Comments

The irony here is that when conservatives say the research is bogus, liberals can point to the research and say “of course you think that way”.

Glad you get the humorous part of the research. I wonder if Robert Crowther understood…

PZ Myer on the flawed protocol although the real protocols shows how the research was actually performed

Anyone asked what was the political, social and religious orientation of the scientists who made this “research” ? Can I make a wild guess?

By the way, what can be said about people who, at some time in their lives, were liberals, and then later on, became conservatives? And the reverse?

Anyone asked what was the political, social and religious orientation of the scientists who made this “research” ? Can I make a wild guess?

You don’t like the implications of the research, so you use scare quotes and make unsupported assumptions about the political motivations of the researchers. Sounds exactly like your approach to evolution.

Anyone know what is the political, social and religious orientation of Mats? Can I make a wild guess? :)

What exactly is a conservative vs a liberal?

I used to classify myself a conservative. But since the evangelicals have hijacked the term, I no longer do.

Mats wrote:

By the way, what can be said about people who, at some time in their lives, were liberals, and then later on, became conservatives? And the reverse?

Well, it could be said that they’re human and that they learn from their experiences.

Not that Mats was doing anything but asking a rhetorical question to cast doubt upon the research, but the answer to his question is pretty damned simple. Like genetic traits, which cannot dictate a specific outcome in a specific individual but rather indicate a measurable predisposition to a specific outcome across a specific population (ie: the individuals who share that genetic trait), I would exepct that this research idicates that people whose “specific region of the brain’s cortex” is “more sensitive” are more likely to be liberal than conservative. End of story.

To bring this down to a more personal level, the fact that both of my parents have blue eyes may mean that my siblings are more likely to have blue eyes than children whose parents have brown eyes, but the fact that my eyes are hazel doesn’t mean that I’m not my parents’ child.

Anyone who claims genetics dictates that a blue-eyed child cannot be the progeny of brown-eyed parents is a fool, a claim that is analogous to the position Mats implies with his “questions.”

Obviously this is a very tricky area to research, but I thought that this study had a ring of truth to it. It describes group tendencies and there would be individual exceptions.

It’s important to note that “conservative” seems to be used in the contemporary American sense, and that’s how I’m using it in this post. To refer to the ideology that the average American can easily identify as “conservative”.

This research certainly fits well with the common observation that virtually all creationists are inflexible and perseverating, and that virtually all creationists are conservatives. (And at least three of the Republican candidates for president are creationists.)

Anyone know what is the political, social and religious orientation of Mats? Can I make a wild guess? :)

We can all be fairly confident that Mats is a hyper-authoritarian who perceives it as being in his interest to have what he would refer to as something along the lines of “Biblical Law” enforced.

My guess is that in cases like this, there are very significant cognitive differences from the way pro-science people operate.

For Mats, the concept that “truth”, “falsehood”, “evidence”, “faith”, or the like can be seperated from advancement of what he perceives as his own interest is alien.

He constantly projects that all science is some kind of a scheme to advance the perceived social and political interests of scientists. For him, perhaps, this is simply how everyone operates.

By the way, what can be said about people who, at some time in their lives, were liberals, and then later on, became conservatives? And the reverse?

This has been dealt with, but I will add some points.

Most of the famous converts to hard core, right wing “conservative” positions, along the lines of Norman Podohertz (sp?) were rigid, ideological leftists before they converted, not “liberals”. My guess would be that they were unable to function except in a rigid ideology, but somehow were able to switch between rigid ideologies.

Some liberals find that the world catches up to them.

There would be many exceptions, but I do think that the study suggests that it would be hard for the most rigid, perseverating “conservative” to switch to an adaptable, problem-solving mode.

Based on the results, Sulloway said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

That’s a pretty big leap to take from this study alone.

Sample statistics taken from college students usually can’t be expected to provide accurate estimates of U.S. population parameters. Unless the entire population consists of UCLA and NYU undergrads.

In the context of previous research, most (reasonable) observers might draw the conclusion above; but the study itself is just a relatively small confirming datapoint. I doubt the authors of the study would agree with Sulloway’s statement, especially devoid of context, as it’s presented in the article.

If you’re going to make a generalization that’s likely to raise some hackles, as the article seems to do, you probably want a broader set of hard data and at least a few examples of falsification-withstanding. Otherwise, you’re providing ammo for the fundie “science is all a matter of opinion” crap.

2hulls Wrote:

What exactly is a conservative vs a liberal?

I used to classify myself a conservative. But since the evangelicals have hijacked the term, I no longer do.

The supplementary text says this:

The critical political orientation item asked participants to indicate their political orientation on a scale ranging from Extremely Liberal (–5) to Extremely Conservative (+5), with neutral corresponding to 0. This single item has been shown to provide a valid and reliable measure of political orientation that is very strongly predictive of intended and actual behavior (e.g., voting decisions).1,2

This was embedded in a larger questionnaire, but I assume “critical item” means the above item (self-identification) was the principal criterion used. That seems appropriate, if indeed such measures are “strongly predictive” of behavior.

There was already known a strong possitive correlation between IQ, education achievment and liberalism. But, I suspect that this is vulnerable to an excluded middle error.

I read the research article. I noticed a distinct bias in the wording of the article, but it was nowhere nearly as horrible as the wording of that Seattle times article.

The most basic finding on the go/no-go task is interesting, and the corresponding ACC activity is an expected neural correlate to the behavior, but I would hope that anyone with even the most basic critical thinking skills would be rather careful extrapolating beyond that most basic of tasks.

I used to classify myself a conservative. But since the evangelicals have hijacked the term, I no longer do.

I find that the term “social conservative” is a comfortable euphemism for “theocrat.”

Perhaps our thoughts are no more a reliable indication of the true nature of reality than a monkey brain, as Darwin mused.

speak for yourself. the sane among us humans actually test our assumptions against reality to see how they hold up.

it’s called “science”

“Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.”

This makes me PROUD to be a liberal!

So.…..what was the political, social and religious orientation of the scientists who made this “research”?

2hulls Wrote:

What exactly is a conservative vs a liberal?

Besides the overinterpretation of the results and eventual errors in the research, I think this may be the larger problem for interpreters. These are relative groups. At least one blog (which?) noted that a US conservative can look liberal or superconservative in other countries.

You tell us; apparently you have some information you’re dying to share.

Ah, I found it:

Cognitive Daily Wrote:

Does this mean that liberals are “hard wired” to be different from conservatives? This data alone certainly doesn’t support that claim. After all, the go/no go task is a learned activity. The reason that it’s hard to inhibit tapping when the “M” appears is that you’ve learned to tap when you see a letter. You could also learn to tap only when you see an M, and you might be able to learn to be better at this task.

Could you learn to be liberal (or conservative)? This study doesn’t answer that question, but my suspicion is you could. After all, what’s considered liberal in the U.S. is considered conservative in many places. In other places, a U.S. conservative would be considered a flaming liberal.

Mats Wrote:

Anyone asked what was the political, social and religious orientation of the scientists who made this “research” ? Can I make a wild guess?

No need to guess.

http://www.newsmeat.com/fec/bystate[…]p;first=JOHN

http://www.newsmeat.com/fec/bystate[…]p;first=john

Mats Wrote:

Anyone asked what was the political, social and religious orientation of the scientists who made this “research” ? Can I make a wild guess?

No need to guess.

Jost

Glaser

I’d just like to know why tendentious political nonsense like this is appearing on Panda’s Thumb. It’s not as if it’s science, or anything.

Mats Wrote:

Anyone asked what was the political, social and religious orientation of the scientists who made this “research” ? Can I make a wild guess?

No need to guess.

Jost

Glaser

I’d just like to know why tendentious political nonsense like this is appearing on Panda’s Thumb. It’s not as if it’s science, or anything.

Harold Wrote:

Most of the famous converts to hard core, right wing “conservative” positions, along the lines of Norman Podohertz (sp?) were rigid, ideological leftists before they converted, not “liberals”. My guess would be that they were unable to function except in a rigid ideology, but somehow were able to switch between rigid ideologies.

No true Scotsman doesn’t like haggis.

Sorry about the multiple post. The site kept giving me an error, but then posted the comment anyway!

so, would the posers who call themselves critics please go on and show the flaws in methods, results, and analysis, instead of making idiotic assumptions of bias and “nonscience”?

seriously.

put up or stfu.

there is always room for debate as to the interpretation of results in a discussion section, but to call it “not science” means you have to go and point out where the methods and analysis are so flawed as to have not been worthy of publication to begin with.

so, gerard, this means you, specifically, since you’re not an idiot like Realpc.

Which research would you like me to comment on? The recent Nature paper, or the more tendentiously described ‘meta-analysis’? This post discusses both.

About the meta-analysis, two of whose authors’ political contributions I’ve given, it is claimed “Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.”

That doesn’t strike you as biased, eh? Perhaps you’re not open-minded enough? Maybe you need to think outside the box.

Gerard,

No true Scotsman doesn’t like haggis.

lol!

(BTW, haggis rocks.)

The fuss that some “hard” science workers make about their intellectual superiority is pathetic.

beyond pathetic into the realm of entirely counterproductive.

I’ve always thought that maybe it’s just a form of jealousy for the fact that much field research, sociological research, and anthropology gets those involved out of the lab for a while at least.

It looks like this particular issue is winding down though. I think Gerard has said his piece, for what it’s worth. I guess according to Gerard, we could have not even bothered reading his take on the issue, and just read Saletan instead.

of course, the difference being that I couldn’t care less what the popular press has to say about the veracity of an article published in a scientific journal, where I do care quite a bit about someone with Gerard’s credentials, making unsubstantiated claims as to not only the nature of peer review for the single most popular science journal in the world, but about the nature of what constitutes “real science” itself.

If we want to continue to actually minimize the role bias plays in peer review, Gerard does far more damage than good.

Hmm. It sounds like Gerald Harbison has spent considerably less time trying to eliminate bias in sociology questionnaires than I have spent in chemistry labs.

If you give a group of people a questionnaire with descriptive terms and ask which ones apply to them, the collective self-reports will ALWAYS come out somewhat positive. Without seeing how the conservative students described themselves it’s impossible to say the survey was slanted in favor of liberals.

I think it’s good that Gerald Harbison, who is apparently a conservative, is fighting the good fight against the forces of anti-science. We need people from various backgrounds. But I also think my graduate work in the sociology and history of science allows me to contribute in ways a chemist might not. Being hard-nosed about only admitting ‘real’ scientists strikes me as counterproductive.

And GH’s insistence that PvM shouldn’t even have raised this topic here is probably not the best way to convince others that he’s open to new experiences.

P.S. Sorry. I just realized I’d said Gerald not Gerard.

Catching up on threads.

Dizzy:

Dizzy Wrote:

That’s irrelevant for the study, which clearly defines “conservative” and “liberal” based on subjects’ self-identification,

I’m confused by you drawing this conclusion from the study. How does self-identification not support the claim of relative groups? See also my comment #206689.

Seems that some have ‘responded’ to the research by claiming that

Rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid.

Interesting approach… But is that really what the study did? Or is it the response to the study which is the real interesting part of the experiment?

You be the judge

As a counterbalance I offer Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition

The whole concept of authoritarianism and its evolutionary components seem quite interesting.

Gary Hurd:

Regarding your statements about conservatives:

American conservatives have become theocratic neo-fascists, or in D&D terms “Lawful Evil.”

There is no need to rig anything to make conservatives “look” stupid- they are mostly stupid.

Who was it that said, “Not all conservatives are stupid, but nearly all stupid people are conservative.

Having the experience of being a conservative, I can personaly attest that these glib generalizations are false. And pernicious. And ignorant.

Perhaps you should do a little studying about the basis of conservatism before you spout off any further. In particular, pay close attention to the conservative view of human nature with respect to the liberal view. Then consider which is closer to reality.

The Libertarians are opposed to government generally but particularly laws protecting the environment, workers, immigrants, and public education, but in favor of unlimited greed, drugs and sex.

You have acquitted yourself no better here. The Volokh Conspiracy recently had a fairly in depth discussion about libertarianism (href=”http://volokh.com/posts/1189661948.shtml).

You really should read it, so you can better gauge the distance between your caricature and reality.

Then consider which is closer to reality.

what you really mean:

“Then consider which fits my projection onto reality better”

which of course, is an impossible task, without any reference to wtf you mean when you say “reality”.

I wouldn’t exactly paint modern conservatives with quite as broad a brush, but you haven’t actually done much to assuage his criticisms yet, either.

that said, I’ll bite:

what is “the basis of conservatism”

pray tell.

And GH’s insistence that PvM shouldn’t even have raised this topic here is probably not the best way to convince others that he’s open to new experiences.

So post some porn. Oh, wait, you say this isn’t a porn site…?

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 20, column 256, byte 2250 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

So post some porn. Oh, wait, you say this isn’t a porn site…?

so, because you can’t see the relevance in discussing human behavior on a site about evolution and the antiscience movement, it’s irrelevant.

congratulations.

you’re a chemist. ever think the reason you are challenging its relevancy is simply because the results make you cry?

so what is you experience in sociology and evolution again?

yeah, that’s what I thought.

better pull down your entire blog, GH, as 99.99% of it is entirely irrelevant to anything but hearing a bigot rant.

good luck with that.

btw, Gerard, take a look at what David wrote, and compare it to what you wrote.

do you see a difference?

boy, I sure do.

he gives something more to chew on than ragged assertions of bias.

Fine, but it does matter who did the studies, and the mere fact that academics tend to be liberal does not void the potential bias.

Uh, Glen, no one claimed it does. But a certain ahole did claim that “the mere fact” constitutes bias. So please direct your criticisms in the right direction.

I wonder if those who defend this study as real science

Perhaps you could name names, with supporting evidence (quotations). The exercise might illustrate the gap between fact and impression.

david brook’s analysis of the Nature article raises an interesting point. Since there were so few students on the conservative side of the scale, was this study really measuring libralism vs. conservatism– or was it actually measuring political involvement?

This is the sort of issue sociologists end up having to address if they want their research to be respected.

I really don’t care if people consider sociology ‘real’ science. But good sociology does involve a lot of hard work, and actually, a lot more questioning of assumptions and searching for unconscious sources of bias than I ever saw during the many hours I spent in chemistry labs.

The study involved 42 college students.

Fourty-two observations? LOL. And this study makes it into one of the most perstigeous natural science journals? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I can tell you for sure, if someone sent an empirical paper drawing inferences from only 42 observations to one of the top journals in my field (financial economics), the editor would reject it without even sending it to a referee.

I’ll be sure to bring up this POS article next time someone from the natural sciences tries to disparage my field.

sandefur does a disservice to those actually interested in the work itself (in a thread above this one) by referring to “a more skeptical view” that is no better than that Gerard posed here in this thread wrt to the actual work itself.

just more idiotic meta analysis.

for those interested in addressing actual criticisms of the paper itself, you’d probably be better off checking out some of the author’s own responses here:

http://scienceblogs.com/cognitiveda[…]_the_cri.php

as i said earlier; I’m rather tired of seeing the same patterns emerge as I saw after EO Wilson published “Sociobiology”, where none of the work he based his conclusions on was even discussed; the only thing that was being bantyed about was the metanalysis of reactionaries and the press.

maybe we should ask Nisbet the framer to look at framing this issue too.

Torbjörn Larsson, OM:

Catching up on threads.

Dizzy:

Dizzy Wrote:

That’s irrelevant for the study, which clearly defines “conservative” and “liberal” based on subjects’ self-identification,

I’m confused by you drawing this conclusion from the study. How does self-identification not support the claim of relative groups? See also my comment #206689.

I was responding to this:

At least one blog (which?) noted that a US conservative can look liberal or superconservative in other countries.

The authors don’t care if a conservative at UCLA or NYU would be considered a liberal at Bob Jones, or whatever. Their primary criterion for assigning an observation to “liberal” or “conservative” was self-identification. They demonstrated a significant correlation between that self-identification and performance/brain activity on the go/no-go task.

It seems entirely possible that someone who self-identifies as “conservative” at UCLA could come to see himself as “moderate” after going out into the real world. (Is that what you were getting at?) But the study’s sample is drawn from the population of UCLA/NYU students, not the entire nation. The study’s results apply to that population, not the overall U.S. population, the entire population of U.S. college students, or citizens of another country.

As I noted above, one might hypothesize that the correlation(s) established by the study would apply to a broader population, but from a behavioral science point of view, more evidence would be needed to establish that.

Obviously the results are skewed in favor of liberals because most university staff is 80% liberal, especially at those two universities. But of course that study was flawed from the beginning because we all know liberalism is a mental disorder.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on September 11, 2007 10:42 PM.

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