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Mellow liberals and jumpy conservatives

Jamie points out this interesting article by Douglas Oxley et al. that appeared in Science last month. Here’s the abstract:

Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals? experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis. We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.

I myself am extremely sensitive to sudden noises, so make of that what you will . . . Seriously, though, this seems related to John Jost’s work on personality profiles and political affiliation.

4 Comments

  1. Aleks says:

    There has been a good article in WSJ, United States of Mind. Rentfrow has another article:

    Rentfrow, P. J., Jost, J. T., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (in press). Statewide differences in personality predict voting patterns in 1996-2004 U.S. Presidential Elections. In J. T. Jost, A. C. Kay, and H. Thorisdottir (Eds.) Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification. Oxford University Press.

  2. wolf says:

    Andrew, please take a short look at the paper itself. Even though I share the authors' sentiments it seems that they have been mostly driven by these sentiments and have not really been to careful in the design and analysis of their study.

    First, they have something like an extreme groups design, which might be ok, but not really very good. The whole sampling is not very careful, if one looks at the supporting material.

    Second, they only had three (3!) "threatening" images interspersed in 30 non-threatening. Of course, you can't have people look at too many images of maggot-infested wounds and the like; but only three?

    Third, and maybe worst, they averaged skin conductancy levels for the 3 (!) threatening and the 30 non-threatening images and then did separate regressions for the two kinds of images. Maybe you can explain why they might have done so. I can only guess that they wouldn't have found the desired effect had they done otherwise.

    Please tell me that I am wrong in thinking that this is a really badly designed and executed study. We are often quick to find fault with research that comes against our opinions. But we should be as pedantic when the results are otherwise.

  3. Richard D. Morey says:

    Yes, I have read the paper and it seems extremely weak.

  4. Keith O'Rourke says:

    Would it be that much of a hardship for another group to replicate this study and everyone else (including the original authors) refrain from drawing "conclusions" or even speculating on what the results mean – until it has been replicated and all studies that attempted the replication are "processed"…

    Keith