A recent abstract offers an interesting conclusion: liberals and conservatives differ not just ideologically, but psychologically and perhaps even physiologically. And in one aspect in particular. “We argue that one organizing element of the many differences between liberals and conservatives is the nature of their physiological and psychological responses to features of the environment that are negative. Compared with liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them.” Conservatives spent significantly more time looking at negative images and were significantly quicker to fixate on those images, as well. In sum, across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative threatening stimuli.
This is the repeated thrust of the brief–that conservatives are more sensitive to a negatively perceived stimulus, and thus act far more promptly to assess its danger and mitigate its effects. The overall mien of the piece is one of almost amusing avuncularity, where well-meaning men in white coats apply prodigious IQs to the heretofore unravelable conundrum: how could there be a such thing as conservatives?
First the piece mentions previous research establishing statistically relevant differences between self-identified conservatives and liberals.
Conservatives value security and conformity, while liberals value self-expression and stimulation.
Conservatives are more polite, while liberals are more empathetic.
Conservatives are more conscientious; liberals more open to new experiences.
Tradition and stability = conservatives
Innovation and reform = liberals
And perhaps most importantly for our purposes, liberals rely primarily on concerns for equality and harm avoidance, whereas conservatives are more likely to take into account considerations such as purity, authority, and in-group/out-group status. We’ll return to this momentarilly.
Though before doing so, any preamble to a dissection of these findings is obliged to ask a couple of questions from the outset. First, who were these self-described liberals and conservatives? Consider spirited in-group advocates from the congressional black caucus such as Sheila Jackson Lee, Maxine Waters, or Bobby Rush (previously a Black Panther–he keeps it all black, all the time) among many others. Might we objectively note some consciousness within this august group of solons to in-group/out-group status? Do you suppose they compensate for their highly conservative ethnocentrism with abounding empathy and innovation? I am conservatively skeptical. So are these democrats actually “liberal” by any of the objective criteria above? Or are the contours of their nominal liberalism defined exclusively by the benefits that may be extracted from it to their own in-group? Surely some minds more formidable than those tapping away at pseudonymous blogs have sought to answer this question.
Though the same query applies to self-described hard left zionist jews. Certainly they are quite “open minded” about the survival of our civilization, though staunchly conservative in regard to their own. And since modern definitions of liberal/conservative are premised blithely upon such accepted contemporary hypocrisies, I strain to comprehend how these labels may be applied to any hypothesis with necessary scientific rigor. That is unless the subject groups were entirely white. A condition one assumes the authors would be liberally loath to mention.
The second item of clarification concerns agreement on what is a negative stimulus. The abstract’s experiments deployed generally agreed upon examples such as pictures of vomit, houses on fire, dangerous animals, and Chuck Schumer. And so it may be somewhat difficult to assault the premise, though one can’t help but suspect that that there is much less sensitivity to negativism at work in conservatives than discord on the issue of what is negative to begin with. How sensitive would a liberal be to the “negative stimulus” of “racism” compared to a conservative? And for sake of argument, presume the word conservative does not mean liberal neocon. I would submit that liberal recoil from such stimulus would be orders of magnitude greater than the conservative. The same asymmetric horror could likely be triggered with photos of receding polar ice, non-diverse workplaces, and white infants. These would have made for fascinating counterbalance, though were apparently left unconsidered.
Finally, contra the conservative profile, conformity could hardly be considered a trait of this writer or those reading this sentence. In fact, the abiding need to conform to a thoroughly liberal social milieu is probably the most profound filter against expansion of our viewpoint. Liberals are very much conformists. Also, in regard to their reputed openness to new experiences, I wish the authors had thought to vet this presumption by perhaps soliciting feedback in a Salon comment thread for how open those liberals are to the new experience of a white ethnostate, for instance. That would be an interesting new experience by which to judge their commitment.
Additional findings from this abstract, and papers that precede it:
* Compared to liberals, conservatives are more likely to prefer simplicity and realism as opposed to complexity and abstractions in art, music, and literature.
* Conservatives prefer familiar as opposed to unfamiliar foods and music, for poetry that rhymes, and for novels that come to closure.
* Conservatives have a lower bar for deeming stimuli and situations negative. When emotionally ambiguous faces are shown to research participants, individuals on the political right are more likely to report that the face is expressing a threatening or dominant emotion, such as anger. Those on the political left are more likely to see a subordinate emotion such as surprise.
* Brain scans of 90 college found that self-identified liberals tend to have more gray matter in the Anterior cingulate cortex, whereas self-identified conservatives tend to have increased volume in the right amygdala. Though the amygdala has been connected to intense positive, as well as negative affect processing, these results are consistent with the aforementioned self-regulating, conflict-monitoring differences between liberals and conservatives and with differences in response to threats and facial emotions (responses that have been traced to the amygdala). These similarities lead (some scientists) to note that their results converge with previous work to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes
* Physiological differences between liberals and conservatives are not limited to brain imaging. Electrodermal activity (EDA) studies report that negatively valenced visual stimuli increase electrodermal activity in conservatives more than in liberals. In some of these studies EDA response to specific image categories such as disgust correlates with specific conservative issue positions such as those related to gay marriage, whereas in other studies EDA response to a wide range of aversive images correlates with broad conservatism. Similar research shows that physiological response to outgroup (especially ethnic) stimuli predicts attitudes and behaviors often associated with left-right conflicts on issues like affirmative action. Facial electromyography (EMG) is another technique for measuring physiological response and individuals scoring high on right wing authoritarianism tend to have greater muscle activity in the corrugator region (furrowing of the brow) when viewing negative social situations. Conservatives also tend to display greater blink amplitude (movement of the orbicularis occuli muscle) in response to sudden, unpleasant, and unexpected auditory stimulus.
The paper closed with some quaintly even-handed conclusions:
“Moreover, being more attuned to the dangers of the world does not make for pessimistic, fearful individuals and being less attuned to dangers does not make for carefree, hedonistic individuals. In fact, conservatives are consistently found to score higher than liberals on subjective well-being, even after controlling for socioeconomic status. Apparently, being responsive and attentive to negative aspects of the environment does not lead to depressive personalities. In fact, it may be that limiting the consequences of threats is a more manageable and defined goal than is pursuing novel experiences. Along these lines, it is well to remember that responding and attending to negative events is not the same thing as living in fear of them. Turning to liberals, the desire for stimulation, self-expression and new experiences does not necessarily make for self-absorbed individuals. Liberals consistently score higher than conservatives on empathy scales. From an evolutionary perspective, insufficient attention and response to negative situations is clearly a problem but it is also the case that unrelenting vigilance and heightened physiological response also become problems at some point.”
What that problem is exactly, we’ll perhaps deign to articulate at a later time. Though overall I’m a bit ambivalent. As a positive, it’s self-evident that conservatives are imbued with a heightened awareness to threats. This could explain why men trend more conservative than women. Though as people are obliged to prioritize finite resources, a prudent adult would place more weight on avoiding and mitigating threats than on “self-expression and stimulation.” The latter being negligently puerile when weighed against the former. In alignment with Maslow’s hierarchy, it would be a sensible mutual concession for liberals to acquiesce in letting us protect our civilization in exchange for their liberty to flounce about like man-children. Though even this is too much of an affront to their open-mindedness.
From a jaundiced view of the paper, determining what is an empathetic out-group altruistic liberal (a jewish nationalist or black Crip?) and what’s a conformist conservative (such as whose opinions appear in these pages) is a more daunting task than the authors appear to concede. The truth is that generic liberalism has simply metastasized to mean “anti-white.” This being a definition that neatly accommodates the two groups above. Though from an intra-group perspective, their analysis probably works. White liberals do appear utterly insensate to the “negative stimulus” their posterity is certain to suffer. Likewise, conservatives are viewed as equally bereft of perception to the abounding benefits that accrue with having one’s civilization and all its works appropriated by aliens. Ethnic food perhaps?
Yet if one fully embraced the conclusions of this paper–that liberals and conservatives are structurally dissimilar–then it would seem to behoove both parties to disengage into separate polities for the greater happiness of both. I’ve mentioned this suggestion to liberals before, online and off. And always upon considered reflection, have received the same singular broad-minded response. Which, I suppose, reveals one certainty if nothing else: the anterior cingulate cortex is the brain structure responsible for identifying “racists!”