September 19, 2008

Scientists can tell who's conservative: They're the ones who blink and sweat a lot when startled.

According to a study that seems designed to get the maximum possible press coverage.

Don't you know it's your primal wussiness that's making you support capitalism, military power, and traditional values?

But let's take this seriously for a minute:
The researchers asked 46 volunteers about their views on a variety of political issues, including foreign aid, immigration policies, and gun control.

Two months later, they showed the volunteers a series of pictures, which included frightening images interspersed with pictures of a bunny, a bowl of fruit and a happy child while measuring the electrical conductance of the volunteers' skin, which signalled sweating, a characteristic used in polygraphs (lie tests).

They also played a series of sudden noises and monitored the volunteers' eye response, since harder blinks are a reflex response that signal heightened fear.

People who are physiologically highly responsive to threat are likely to advocate policies that protect against threats to the social unit: favouring defence spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War.

In contrast, people who are less startled by sudden noises and threatening visual images are more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism and gun control.
It's interesting, in this context, that gun control goes with the liberal ideas. It suggests that liberals support gun control not so much because they are afraid of gun violence, but because they are relaxed about the possibility that they may need to defend themselves.

I'm inclined to believe that there is something at a very basic physical level that makes a person tend toward conservatism or liberalism. And this study -- even assuming it's accurate -- doesn't necessarily mean that conservatives are more cowardly than liberals, only that they are more sharply tuned to perceptions of threat.

Perceiving and responding to threats had obvious survival value for human beings over the span of evolutionary time, beyond what makes sense in the modern world. But there is also value in remaining calm and steady in the face of threat and in accurately perceiving that a seeming threat is not real.

Who's to say what level of over- or under-reaction to threat would have been most useful to our distant ancestors as the human race evolved over the ages? But we've inherited variable tendencies, and it stands to reason that these feelings and capacities affect our political views.

Perhaps if we truly understood this, our political arguments would mellow.

88 comments:

Mateo said...

Is there anything in the study that actually indicates a genetic predisposition to these responses? Or could it just be confirmation of the old adage: A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged?

Mr. Smarterthanyou said...

Everything about liberals scream cowardice. They "don't want to make them (Hijackers, kidnappers, robbers, muslims) angry"

They are convinced that anyone who holds a weapon in self defence will have that weapon ripped from their hands and used on them.

They support "zero tolerance" policies that subordinate rights to perceived safety.

They support running to mommy or the UN instead of dealing with it themselves.

memomachine said...

Hmmmm.

@ Althouse

You take these idiot "studies" seriously?

Frankly my perception of you just dropped a few notches.

goesh said...

- seems there is still considerable opportunity for the ol' flight or fight instincts to kick in - starting with our inner cities, we could travel to Darfur, Nigeria, Kasmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Repub. of Georgia, Pakistan....are they still beheading in Chechnya and honor killing in England? I guess I do sweat a bit more over the prospect of Barack Hussein Obama being the Commander in Chief of our armed forces.

Ralph said...

The liberals were stoned.

Tibore said...

"In contrast, people who are less startled by sudden noises and threatening visual images are more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism and gun control."

Soooo... people who support liberal values are ones with lessened fight-or-flight reflexes and would normally be naturally selected out of existence if it were not for the comformts of modern society?

Yes, I know that statement is absurd. It is deliberately crafted to be so, and that's my point: Too many people may superficially think this study insults conservatives, but if we insist on viewing it through a political prism, we can make an equal argument that it really insults liberals. In truth, it should be viewed through an analytical prism, and people should note that all it really says is that there's a link between certain societal attitudes and initial, uncontrolled physical responses to certain stimuli. People wanting to make political hay out of it need to be aware that interpretations can cut both ways.

Pogo said...

"Perceiving and responding to threats had obvious survival value...
But there is also value in remaining calm and steady in the face of threat and in accurately perceiving that a seeming threat is not real."


One problem with the study is that it does not sort out whether or not a threat is in fact real.

Conservatives are more aware of threats?
No shit.

Liberals ignore threats?
No shit.

Are threats real, imaginary, exagerrated?

Dunno about you, but the fact that robberies, murder, rape, bombings, torture, genocide, and state-controlled mass killings in the 20th century outpaced all prior centuries combined makes me think that someone who does NOT percieve a threat in daily life in the 21st century is delusional.

And to act self-congratulatory about it is laughable.

Maguro said...

It suggests that liberals support gun control not so much because they are afraid of gun violence, but because they are relaxed about the possibility that they may need to defend themselves.

That is a good observation. Another way to put is that liberals know they will be protected by the cops and soldiers they despise.

Fausta said...

You want sweat? Take tango lessons!

Jill said...

The majority of the military is conservative. I would be worried if I didn't think this study is crap.

chuckR said...

Meet the Eloi....

John K. said...

Conservatism, before it was perverted into neo-conservatism, used to be all about the presumption against the use of force, specifically the use of force on a grand, national scale. It therefore tended to be isolationist rather than interventionist. It believed in the "invisible hand" and was skeptical of central planning. Its traditional regard for tradition can be traced to recognition of the limits of human rationality and the best laid plans of mice and men.

A great conservative pop band expressed the conservative ideal in these words, "Let it be," putting this admonition in the mouth of the Virgin Mary.

This "scientific" study is completely invalid because it is utterly confused about the terms under study. A real conservative is not characterized by fear.

Ann Althouse said...

"Are threats real, imaginary, exagerrated?"

All the threats in the study were imaginary, since they were just photographs.

I think it's pretty lame to be startled by a photograph of a spider or something like that.

John K. said...

Or rather, if a conservative is afraid, he wants to maintain as much control over responding to the source of his fear as possible, without trusting or delegating that crucial responsibility to irresponsible politicians in far off cities.

AllenS said...

Shoot first, ask questions later. I'm kinda old fashioned.

Trevor Jackson said...

"The majority of the military is conservative."

So conservative that they donate 6:1 to Obama over McCain.

Maguro said...

So conservative that they donate 6:1 to Obama over McCain.

Not really meaningful given the very small number of military personnel who actually give money to politicians. Let's see how they vote.

memomachine said...

Hmmmm.

"I think it's pretty lame to be startled by a photograph of a spider or something like that."

I think it's pretty lame to take these studies seriously.

A picture? Noises? Measuring electrical conductivity?

This is just more of the same old bullshit that liberal academics engage in to "prove" that liberals are supposed to be superior at something or other. Or worse yet that conservatism is somehow a personality disorder that needs "treatment".

Utter garbage.

Pogo said...

"All the threats in the study were imaginary"
That's my point. It equates a supposed fear response to a photograph with over-reaction to actual threats.

"I think it's pretty lame to be startled by a photograph of a spider or something like that."

From The Telegraph version; "a threatening image - a spider on a face, a dazed and bloody person, or an open wound that is crawling with maggots "

From The National Science Foundation:
"Researchers showed subjects threatening visual images--pictures of a spider on a person's eyeball, a dazed person with a bloody face and an open wound with maggots in it--and monitored their skin for electrical conductivity, which indicates emotion, arousal and attention. In another physiological measure, the scientists surprised subjects with a sudden, jarring noise and measured how hard they blinked in response to being startled."

Maybe liberals simply lack empathy rather than 'fear'. The liberals I know aren't exactly fearless.

I think one conclusion they reached is likely true: "Maybe liberals and conservatives have difficulty understanding the views of the other side in part because they experience threats differently"

It was better said thus:
"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." - Churchill (attributed also to Orwell)

And this:
"I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it." - Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men)

Maguro said...

I think it's pretty lame to be startled by a photograph of a spider or something like that.

The article didn't give enough detail to know for sure, but it sounds like the reactions measured were subtle enough you probably wouldn't even know if you were "startled" or not.

Chris said...

Was the pun on "over- and under-reaction" intentional? Even if it wasn't, it's still brilliant.

Stinger Assassin said...

According to a new comprehensive survey...

"Traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians...

"While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead...

It also turns out that the more college education you have the more likely you are to believe in "ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students....

"The first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."

In today's Wall St. J.

The Drill SGT said...

Jill said...
The majority of the military is conservative. I would be worried if I didn't think this study is crap.


In reply I provide this not-Orwell not-quote:

?Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."


Here's to all the rough men in our Military!

Rick Moore said...

Could it be that years of drug abuse and personal depravity tend to dull your responses to threats? Maybe that explains the laid-back response shown by liberals.

Bissage said...

“Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.”
-- Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker

I’m not really sure where to put him on the contemporary political spectrum, but I doubt he was a particularly jittery kind of guy.

ricpic said...

When I'm startled I yip. Completely involuntary.

What it means I leave to the deep thinkers.

Paddy O. said...

I'm also curious about this statement: "The researchers asked 46 volunteers".

So, this isn't a random study of conservatives and liberals. This is a study of the kinds of conservatives and liberals who volunteer for study.

I suspect, though am not about to prove, this makes a difference. There really are conservatives who are full of fear. A lot of the Christian end-times movements are not about theological preciseness but about being utterly, unspiritually, afraid. Often these are people with too much time on their hands.

And, to be sure, while I might not agree with policies it takes a huge amount of personal courage to volunteer for a lot of social action positions in this world.

Mr. Smarterthanyou said...

that 6:1 ratio needs to be investigated. There is no way that that is from uniformed personnel. There must be other money being laundered.

John Lynch said...

(nto John Lynch)

This reminds me of the old, cheesy horror movies. The ones where the buxom blond, the clueless professor, or the pampered lawyer are in the woods, cabin, cave, wherever. The creepy music starts. The protaganist issues alarm and directions; and somehow - the clueless are slow to move, complain about having to move, questioning the alarm and the directions, and then ALWAYS trip while running: and then get mauled.

Pogo said...

The study brings to mind the movie "A Clockwork Orange", in which the lack of feeling for others has never been expressed more powerfully.

Richard Dolan said...

A "study"? You've got to be kidding -- this is another example of Althousian performance art, right?

Start with the categories supposedly being "studied": conservative and liberal. As we all know, those are defined by finely drawn, well understood characteristics, and no one ever holds "conservative" views on one issue and "liberal" views on another.

Then stop to admire the equally powerful analytic tools used to deconstruct the subjects' responses: "harder blinks" and and "electrical conductance" related to "sweating." OK.

Finally, there's the sample size: 46 subjects.

What a crock.

Ann says: "I'm inclined to believe that there is something at a very basic physical level that makes a person tend toward conservatism or liberalism." And others believe in the Easter Bunny. It's a free country.

Pogo said...

a la Dolan

From Theodore Dalrymple: A Prophetic and Violent Masterpiece

"In 1971, the very year in which the Kubrick film of A Clockwork Orange was released, Skinner published a book entitled Beyond Freedom and Dignity. He sneered at the possibility that reflection upon our own personal experience and on history might be a valuable source of guidance to us in our attempts to govern our lives. “What we need,” he wrote, “is a technology of behavior.” Fortunately, one was at hand. “A technology of operant behavior is . . . already well advanced, and it may prove commensurate with our problems.” As he put it, “[a] scientific analysis shifts the credit as well as the blame [for a man’s behavior] to the environment.” What goes on in a man’s mind is quite irrelevant; indeed, “mind,” says Skinner, is “an explanatory fiction.”

For Skinner, being good is behaving well; and whether a man behaves well or badly depends solely upon the schedule of reinforcement that he has experienced in the past, not upon anything that goes on in his mind. It follows that there is no new situation in a man’s life that requires conscious reflection if he is to resolve the dilemma or make the choices that the new situation poses: for everything is merely a replay of the past, generalized to meet the new situation.

The Ludovico Method, then, was not a far-fetched invention of Burgess’s but a simplified version—perhaps a reductio ad absurdum, or ad nauseam—of the technique for solving all human problems that the dominant school of psychology at the time suggested. Burgess was a lapsed Catholic, but he remained deeply influenced by Catholic thought throughout his life. The Skinnerian view of man appalled him. He thought that a human being whose behavior was simply the expression of conditioned responses was not fully human but an automaton. If he did the right thing merely in the way that Pavlov’s dog salivated at the sound of a bell, he could not be a good man: indeed, if all his behavior was determined in the same way, he was hardly a man at all. A good man, in Burgess’s view, had to have the ability to do evil as well as good, an ability that he would voluntarily restrain, at whatever disadvantage to himself."

The Drill SGT said...

Bissage said...I’m not really sure where to put him on the contemporary political spectrum, but I doubt he was a particularly jittery kind of guy.

actually, I bet he was jittery :)

My undertstanding of WWI fighter tactics leads me to the conclusion that:

1. calm complacent pilots died fast.
2. jittery pilots with good neck muscles that were always looking behind them lived to fight again and breed :)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

It suggests that liberals support gun control not so much because they are afraid of gun violence, but because they are relaxed about the possibility that they may need to defend themselves.

It IS genetic. It suggests that liberals lack a sense of self preservation and awareness of the dangers in their surroundings. In a setting of nature, without civilization to save their butts, the laws of evolution would breed them out of existence.

The conservative sees the tiger and knows there is danger and the flight or fight instinct steps in. The liberal sees the tiger and goes.. "Ooooooh pretty". The tiger enjoys a liberal lunch.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

LOL Drill Sgt. Great minds think alike.

rcocean said...

As stated, the liberals lack of fear was probably simply lack of empathy, i.e. an indifference to the pictures of others.

Liberals lack empathy for crime victims, for those who die in interventionist wars, the victims of the gulag, the murder victim and his family, the worker who loses his job or wages lowered due to illegal immigration, etc.

Threats to the nation don't bother them, since they aren't patriotic.

And other than a few vague words in favor of unions or "the Poor" they don't couldn't care less about the working class.

Richard Dolan said...

One additional observation about Ann's statement that "I'm inclined to believe that there is something at a very basic physical level that makes a person tend toward conservatism or liberalism."

Over the years that I've been reading this blog, I've noticed that Ann has an odd weakness for mechanistic models offered to explain mental phenomena. For example, some time ago, she said that Antonio Damasio was one of her favorite authors. He's a neuro-anatomist with a strange love-hate relationship with Cartesian models. It would be nice if Damasio could make up his mind, and I don't think he should go about trying to do that by sticking an electrical probe in the brain. And Ann's done more than a few blog posts about wacky articles (usually in the NYT) trying to explain mental phenomena by reducing it all to neural firings and brain functions.

Ann usually hedges her bets -- here, the physical stuff just creates a "tend[ency] toward conservatism or liberalism," and so she ends up with a picture that's only semi-hemi-demi-determined. Still, with whatever hedging may be going on and however that hedged model is supposed to work, what is it about these mechanistic models that is so appealing? It seems to me that they don't explain anything, and end up denying that people live intentional, purposeful lives (either by taking a Newtonian tack, where everything is determined once you know the initial starting point of the moving pieces, which is (sort of) the model behind this "study"; or by taking a quantum mechanical tack, where everything is just a matter of randomness, indeterminancy and probabilities).

Despite the scientific trappings in which these explanations come (experiments, data, lots of charts and stats), I think that their attraction is ultimately aesthetic and stylistic: the trappings create a sense that they are "solid" and "rigorous" and "intellectual," the opposite of "soft" and "poetic" and "mythological." That is, until you try to make sense of them.

Strange, really. Just an observation. Perhaps the problem is that I haven't observed clearly enough.

Ann Althouse said...

Focus. I said "I'm inclined to believe that there is something at a very basic physical level that makes a person tend toward conservatism or liberalism." That's not the same as: I think this was a well-done study with the conclusions stated in an unbiased way. Obviously, I don't. I directly criticize the way the conclusions are stated, and I never say the methodology was good. But I do in fact think we have a physical nervous system, which evolved in relation to a world very different from what we live in, and that affects our emotions, beliefs, and opinions. It's not something I believe because of the study, but from much other reading and observation. Do you disagree?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Ann said "But I do in fact think we have a physical nervous system, which evolved in relation to a world very different from what we live in, and that affects our emotions, beliefs, and opinions. "

I agree completely and that was what I was trying to convey in my comment about genetics and the tiger.

We are at the core what we have been evolved to be, by millions of years of breeding and selection. With the rise of civilization undesirable traits, diseases and behaviours that would spell certain death (thereby eliminating those from the gene pool) have been allowed to flourish.

You can have a disease like Diabetes and survive. You can be a complacent unhelpful member of society and be allowed to remain in the civilized "tribe" because your presence doesn't really endanger everyone else...at this time.

Pogo said...

The search seem to be for a lib-vs-con Voight-Kampff Test, as if from the tale
Do Conservatives Dream of Threatening Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick.

Buford Gooch said...

The folks in the test with the liberal leanings had no difference in reaction to a picture of a large spider on a person's face than to a picture of a bunny. This says something about their perceptions. I'll leave it to the rest of you as to what it say.

William said...

Some time back, a survey of Manhattan psychiatrists showed that the overwhelming majority of them believed that Barry Goldwater was too mentally unstable to be President of the United States. This survey proved irrefutably that the political views of people in the social sciences influences their professional judgement. This experiment also further advances the thesis that social scientists are not to be trusted. However, more work must be done in this area before the general public is convinced of the fallacy of social scientists....It is indeed sad that so many people cling to these superstitious beliefs; but, with time and education, it will be possible to diminish these pernicious views.

Oligonicella said...

Ann --

"But I do in fact think we have a physical nervous system, which evolved in relation to a world very different from what we live in, and that affects our emotions, beliefs, and opinions."

Axiomatic and meaningless unless you can figure out how it affects same. A tripe concoction done to affirm a preconceived outcome won't do.

These types of studies have been, are now and shall ever more be simply partisan quackery. Anyone lending them the slightest credence is biologically and psychologically ignorant.

Jim Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

Let's see: some professors from the university have come to your midwestern town and want to subject you to some tests. So they attach an apparatus to you and then starting showing you bizarre and disturbing pictures and making sudden noises.

Why are we surprised at the responses? The liberals naturally think that these nice people from the university couldn't possibly mean them any harm. And the conservatives know better--they just didn't know the harm intended.

Kathryn said...

Would it be possible to go through just one of these discussions without someone pulling out the "rough men stand ready" quote? Please?

Pogo said...

"Would it be possible..."

Not while the lesson remains unlearned. Repetition soothes the ignorant breast.

Chip Ahoy said...

The researchers asked 46 volunteers about their views on a variety of political issues

Stop !

Richard Dolan said...

Ann: No one is saying that you vouched for the study or its methodolgy, or even that you necessarily disagree with the conclusion that it is a crock (although you may not entirely agree). And poking fun isn't an exclusive professorial privilege.

Obviously we all have a "physical nervous system" (it's not a matter of doubt or debate, is it?), just like we all have a heart and lungs and other physical parts, all of which are essential and have to work together in order for each of us to live, think, feel and act. It's also clear enough that those systems evolved over time, and one factor impacting on the evolutionary process was which arrangement worked best in helping the organism survive. That's all common ground.

So let's focus on the idea that that there is "something at a very basic physical level that makes a person tend toward conservatism or liberalism." That idea is much more interestig than the silly study that gave rise to this string. What is this physical something and how does it work to create that tendency? I'm not sure what you have in mind, but it sounds like you are picturing a particular chemical, or perhaps a specific set of neural wirings, that (when present) results in conservative rather than liberal attitudes. Hedging it all by saying it's just a "tendency" suggests that there are other chemicals, neural wiring patterns or "physical somethings" that can get in the way so that the expected result (e.g. conservative attitudes) isn't always observed. The model suggests that, if all of those "physical somethings" were understood, then we could do away with talk about "tendencies" and just map out rigorously how the system will always work depending on whatever the physical inputs (sensations) may be over time.

Where it all falls apart is the attempt to link the physical model as a causal explanation for "our emotions, beliefs, and opinions." There are two basic problems. First, the language we use to talk about intentional, purposeful conduct (about our conscious lives generally) is just incommensurate with the language of chemistry or electrical engineering. Second (related to the first), is that offering the workings of "physcial somethings" as causal explanations for "our emotions, beliefs, and opinions" (or any other aspect of consciousness) inevitably ends up requiring a ghost in the machine somewhere. That defeats the purpose of the physical model, making it pointless as an explanatory device.

In your comment, you say that the "physical nervous system" as it has evolved "affects our emotions, beliefs, and opinions." "Affects" is not very specific in this context, and using it here makes your statement true, but not in a very interesting way. It's true in the same sense that people suffering specific brain injuries can suffer the inability to feel or react in specific ways, just as people who suffer the loss of their eyes lose the ability to see, or people who have had too much to drink can suffer the loss of self control in vsrious ways. And, without a functioning physical nervous system, no one can feel or react at all (you'd be dead). (The same would be true, by the way, if you didn't having a functioning heart or lungs or liver.) In those senses, the nervous system as evolved clearly "affects" our beliefs, emotions and opinions.

But I think the claim that "physical somethings" affect our emotions and beliefs is usually meant in a stronger sense than that. For the reasons briefly sketched above, I don't think it is possible to point to "physical somethings" about our evolved nervous systems that will explain why some people are more conservative than others (assuming we can even unpack those categories to make them useful).

So I'm not sure whether we agree or not.

Cedarford said...

Pogo -

Conservatives are more aware of threats?
No shit.

Liberals ignore threats?
No shit.


Pogo has it ass-backwards. What researchers are saying is that genetic hard-wiring, indicated by "startle reaction" appears to help predict who grows up and embraces conservative or liberal views.

It isn't a logical thought process that leads many people to become conservative or liberal, but reactions and emotions coming out of the good old reptilian part of the human hindbrain that kind of "guide" people to the facts that fits some genetic predeterminants.

This isn't the 1st time that observations of differing genetically hardwired child behavior has indicated to behavioralists propensities realized in adult life.

Examples include the correlation with genetically driven "excessive" impulsive behavior and criminality. Or child development pros saying that they can predict from observing 5-6 year old boys behavior who has a lifetime homosezual orientation.

There is also evidence that the "startle reflex" can be altered in adulthood to shift between conservative and liberal views. The old saw that a conservative is a liberal who is mugged is one way - the trauma imprints in the emotional response and the next thing you know, the victim is a NRA member. Or women that are liberal until they have kids and are "startled" into seeing the world not through fantasy and rose-colored glasses, but how it is....

And the example of war victims who survived by superior "startle" reflexes, but came to America where they then emotionally became convinced there was no great risk -living in safe neighborhoods and all - and joined the ACLU.

Chip Ahoy said...

I knew an oncologist who for years was a good friend. That's nothing special in itself as he was well-known, but our friendship was indeed special. We were good friends precisely because we shared broad interests. One major difference between us, though, was he was so dazzled by the brilliance science that it completely outshone everything else non-scientific. For instance, I would ask him, "what about dreams, out of body experiences, or near-death remembrances?" He'd answer, "It's all neuron firing inside your head."

"All of it?"

"Yes. all of it." He'd continue, "Look, when you die you're buried and the worms eat you. That's it."

He was a real charmer.

But then his wife suddenly died. He was nearly destroyed emotionally. I noticed a difference in his analysis of his own perceptions. Once he surprised me with this, "On my drive home I was suddenly struck with a stark disconnected visualization of a deer jumping in front of my Jeep. That caused me to slow. Within seconds around the next curve a deer actually did leap in front of the Jeep. Had I not slowed, I'd have hit it. Do you think Jill gave me the vision of the deer?" He was in the habit of connecting every event with his wife. But at that point he began connecting psychic events with his wife. A visitation from the dead? And one interested in your commute? I was tempted to say, "No, it's all just neurons firing inside your head," but I checked that urge.

He remained solidly Democratic throughout. Despised Bush but could speak about him rationally and unemotionally. He was the only solidly Democrat I've ever known who could. He was both a blinker and a sturdy risk taker.

This concludes a touching and heart-wrenching anecdote intended to contribute to the thread on weak studies that presume to describe a physiological / political orientation connection.

chickenlittle said...

Cedarford said: Pogo has it ass-backwards. What researchers are saying is that genetic hard-wiring, indicated by "startle reaction" appears to help predict who grows up and embraces conservative or liberal views.

How do you explain the clear and convincing "startle reaction" that Palin provoked in certain people?

Few of the startled have actually met the woman and are essentially reacting to images of her (and spoke words).

Is Sarah Palin as thweatening as a widdow spider?

Chip Ahoy said...

Is Sarah Palin as thweatening as a widdow spider?

I would say, "No." But the thought of her as president, a likelihood, is threatening.

I would say that, if I was among the ones making the argument, which I'm not.

chickenlittle said...

Chip, I only interjected to jumble the conclusion. I think the methods of the study were sound.

And yes, liberals are conservative when it comes to preservation.

rhhardin said...

Psych 101 used to be a lot more fun.

Watson, repeating similar experiments [to Pavolv], noted the transference aspect of such conditioning. Having found that the violent striking of an iron bar produced fear in an infant, he noted that he could give a fear character to some hitherto neutral object, such as a rabbit, by placing it before the child each time the iron bar was struck; he next demonstrated that t his conditioned fear of the rabbit was transferred with varying degrees of intensity to other things having similar properties (such as fur coats or cotton blankets).

Kenneth Burke _Permanence and Change_ p.11-12

blake said...

2. jittery pilots with good neck muscles that were always looking behind them lived to fight again and breed :)

The absence of jittery WWI fighter pilots in the current population is ominous.

blake said...

Ralph said the first thing that came into my mind: "Well, yeah, the liberals were stoned."

Pogo said...Dunno about you, but the fact that robberies, murder, rape, bombings, torture, genocide, and state-controlled mass killings in the 20th century outpaced all prior centuries combined makes me think that someone who does NOT percieve a threat in daily life in the 21st century is delusional.

The nature of industrialism is such that it makes mass killings a lot easier. So, yes, the state is to be feared. (And yet, we end up with two parties fighting to control the power it shouldn't have in the first place.)

But I think, on a day-to-day basis, the world is much safer now than ever. I recall reading recently that Renaissance London had a murder rate several times the current rate.

But even if we just go back 15 years, we can see the decline in violent crime here in the USA.

In fact, isn't the problem that we have that life is too safe. Isn't the fundamental principle of the anti-American crowd based on the notion that the world is a peaceful, happy place except for the USA screwing everything up?

Could you hold that notion while simultaneously being presented with real--not televised--threats to your person?

blake said...

In closing, I'd like to say one thing about cause and effect.

Modern Liberals, i.e., statists believe that Man is Effect. You are not responsible. Not for your personal condition, not for what you do, not for nothin'. You are a product of environment (society and genes, etc.). This is part of why they're so big on social engineering. (Curiously, they must exempt themselves at some level for this.)

Conservatives may or may not believe that Man is Cause. But you will be treated as though you are responsible for who you are and what you do.

We could map this back to the experiment mentioned but, let's face it, that thing is a crock. It doesn't pass the laugh test.

Pogo said...

"Pogo has it ass-backwards. "
Cedarford, you just restated what I said, only longer.

memomachine said...

Hmmmm.

"It isn't a logical thought process that leads many people to become conservative or liberal, but reactions and emotions coming out of the good old reptilian part of the human hindbrain that kind of "guide" people to the facts that fits some genetic predeterminants."

This is total nonsense.

Look I spent the first 18 years of my life as a rabidly liberal Democrat living amongst rabidly liberal Democrats. IMO if you found a list of the founding members of the Democratic party in New Hampshire you'd find a relative of mine.

But now I'm a conservative and have been so since about age 20 or so. What turned me conservative is the realization that there is a stark difference between what Democrats *think* is reality and reality. To me the fantasy world that many Democrats seem to live in is a pile of dung and I've got better things to do than worship at that altar.

So how the hell am I "genetically" disposed to be a conservative? What is there a day where I would've tested different in the morning (liberal) and the evening (conservative)?? How is that genetic?

We're not talking some earth-shattering event here. It was more like waking up from a bad dream. From a semi-comatose state to full wakefulness and the piercing realization that I had spent years believing in things that simply are not true.

How does any of that get expressed in this "study"? How does this "study" show any of that? Am I to believe that my reaction to a bug on an eyeball has to do with my liberal views (at that time) or my conservative views (now)?

Utter rubbish.

blake said...

That's a good point, memo.

If it were genetic, why would people change affiliation?

I hear of people "converting" from liberalism all the time. The only time I hear of the reverse is in those wonderful letters from Mary or Bill or John that begin "As a lifelong Republican..."

Pogo said...

Damn, memo, you're right. I was a former liberal myself. Did I not sweat as much then?

blake said...

Pogo,

This suggests that the liberal/conservatism divide is more neurological than genetic.

You see, as the smarter brain cells die off...

Pogo said...

Oh SNAP!!!

memomachine said...

Hmmmm.

"You see, as the smarter brain cells die off..."

Ya mean the *weakest* right?

Evolution requires survival of the strongest in both micro and macro.

Conservatism is achieved when the weak brain cells die off.

Preferably from mojitos!

blake said...

Maybe that's why conservatives are all beer drinkers...killin' off dem liberal brain cells....

Methadras said...

Show me a cowardly liberal and I'll show you truth to power!

Duscany said...

A person's politics are always a reflection of his deepest fears. People who are good with their hands, self-sufficient able to physically take care of themselves are apt to be libertarian. They are against social policies which confiscate their labor on behalf of other people because it seems to them a no-win situation. They don't need anyone else's help. But other people need theirs.

The socialistically inclined, on the other hand, are afraid of exactly the opposite. Because they know they can't physically take care of themselves, they over-develop their powers of persuasion, which they then use to try and convince other people to share the wealth.

John said...

What a bunch of CARP. This is grant money down the drain, like all liberal spending. A study to do what? Duh!

ErnieG said...

The effect of alcohol on brain cells was never more clearly explained:

Cliff: Well ya see, Norm, it's like this. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers.

Jon Sandor said...

So that explains why "liberals" react to Palin and Bush as if they've seen a spider? They are really conservatives?

Let's not kid ourselves here. When it comes to hysterical overreactions, the left completely overshadows the right.

johnboy said...

You are less bothered by things like this when high.

SwampWoman said...

This was a very tiny study with a *very* small number of participants, no doubt handpicked to get the response that the people doing the study were looking for.

Jon Sandor said...

Another source on the same story.


Before liberals start cheering, however, they don’t come off much more noble or nuanced. They were less sensitive to the threatening images, and more likely to support open immigration policies, pacifism and gun control. But according to the research, that’s hardly desirable, since it suggests that liberals may display mammal-on-a-hot-rock languor in the face of legitimate threats. “They actually don’t show any difference in physical response between a picture of a spider on someone’s face and a picture of a bunny,” Alford tells NEWSWEEK.

There's a word for people who show no more reaction to a spider on a human face than to a bunny. It's not "liberal" or "conservative". It's a word in the DSM.

Cha-cha-change! said...

"The majority of the military is conservative."

So conservative that they donate 6:1 to Obama over McCain.


Take these "militaries" out of the equation and I'm sure the ratio changes to something like 1,000:1 McCain over Obama.

Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), Abu Sayyaf Group, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Ansar al-Islam, Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Asbat al-Ansar, Aum Shinrikyo, Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA),Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army (CPP/NPA), Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement), Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM), Hizballah (Party of God), Islamic Jihad Group, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) (Army of Mohammed), Jemaah Islamiya organization (JI), al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamic Jihad), Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LT) (Army of the Righteous), Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM), Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLF), PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC), Tanzim Qa'idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (QJBR) (al-Qaida in Iraq) (formerly Jama'at al-Tawhid wa'al-Jihad, JTJ, al-Zarqawi Network), al-Qa’ida, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly GSPC), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Revolutionary Organization 17 November, Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)

Schorsch said...

Good analysis, Ann. I'm a bit more familiar with the use of startle reflex, since I have several colleagues who use it in their research. It is not synonymous with "fear." It is a physiological reaction to a perceived threat, which could translate into fear, anger, fighting, fleeing, etc. The coolest, Man-without-a-namest guy in the room will probably have a startle reflex off the charts; he perceives threats easily, but can still respond coolly.

The "liberal" group in this study did have a startle response, but it took a stronger/louder stimulus to evoke it. This just means that the "conservative" group was paying more attention to threatening stimuli.

Mario said...

I swear, Ann, you get more "My respect for you has dropped" type of comments than any other blogger I've ever seen. It's ridiculous.

That said, this study seems suspect.

Alec Rawls said...

Sounds like alertness vs. obliviousness. Its like those morons after some shooting who say "I thought it was firecrackers." Anyone with a brain would think, "that could be firecrackers, or it could be a gun." You don't assume, but many people DO make the comforting assumption. If that is really a common difference between left and right, that's pretty interesting.

SarahW said...

This would seem to support the old saw
"a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged."

Fright and threat pathways kindled, they begin a life of realistic threat assessment.

SarahW said...

Or rather, a less blinkered one.

fboness said...

Who remembers Timothy Treadwell? He lived with bears on Katmai Island, Alaska and got away with it for thirteen years before he was killed by a bear. He ignored all warnings from the Park Service and from the bears themselves.

Do you think a picture of a bear would have got a reaction from Tim?

Job said...

fboness said...
"Who remembers Timothy Treadwell? He lived with bears on Katmai Island, Alaska and got away with it for thirteen years before he was killed by a bear."

IMHO, Mr. Treadwell should count himself lucky that that he lived about 12.9 years longer than one should expect.

Back to the main topic: In my experience, the people who really don't react to scary stimuli aren't courageous, they are sociopaths.

In Seinfeld, they referred to girls with "crazy eyes."

Aaron Durst said...

Has anyone seen the actual study or know where it can be found on line free of access? Lincoln, NE is a college town. What if there was a correlation between the liberals in the study and the Health Care industry and/or university labratory science studies? If so, would it be any surprise that these individuals are less likely to respond to the "threatening" photos that were shown.

Syl said...

It's liberals who are the ones afraid of global warming. I think that's a superstition too.

michaelyi said...

At 7:25 AM, Ralph won the thread.

RebeccaH said...

So let me understand this: if I'm sweating a lot because I'm having hot flashes, this qualifies me as a conservative at the time, or a conservative all the time?

FogartyFOTO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
In Absentia said...

So conservatives here are proud of your higher sensitivity to threats? However, has it occurred to you that you can overreact? That not all threats should be on "high alert?" And what about remaining cool and calm when a threatening situation occurs? What about being able to distinguish whether or not there's even a real threat.

Being on "high alert" all the time does not make good policy just as trusting and believing in everything doesn't either.

By the way, I've been mugged and I'm still a liberal (libertarnian is more like it). I've had a father and a friend's husband fight in a war (but they are still liberals). But, I can't get over your outdated views of liberals. Liberals are a very diverse group. But, I'm not sure you guys are too fond of diversity. Right now, conservatives are purging themselves of diversity of thought under Rush Limbaugh's guidance. This is a very bad move.

When looking at these comments, it's no surprise that you guys are losing. You are speaking a language that the rest of the country is not hearing because of bigger fears like recession, unemployment, high inflation, etc. What's the "high alert" strategies for those threats? What about economic threats? Even when fellow conservatives bring this stuff up, it gets shot down.

Besides, you guys talk tough, but I doubt seriously you are. Many conservatives are just as spoiled as they claim liberals to be. Conservatives are also softened by the convenience of our modern society. They've been softened by years of dominating our government and politics. So much so, that you are unable to response to serious political threats (like defeat in the 2008 elections). You talk self-reliance, but rely on the government just as much as everybody else. You talk stronger defense, more police protection, etc, but when it comes to actual paying for this and supporting the men and women who provide this service to their country and community, you guys expect to cut taxes and still be able to increase. And you do expect somebody else to protect you. And you expect them to provide that protection with no real support.

There was a time when a conservative could come up with an idea and concept and it would blow my mind. There was a time when it took real effort to debate a conservative. There was a time when they were just as informed as I was, but just came to a different conclusion. It's been more than 10 years since that happened. The comments here have shown me why. Except for the commenter who rightfully criticized neo-conservativism (which is really the dominant conservatism now - it has overtaken and become THE conservative movement of the US).

You know, you guys could be using this study to better understand your opponents and either work with them or defeat them more effectively. But you and your political leaders just sit and complain as well as insult. You guys have seem to forgotten that most Americans are moderates and right now, you are failing to convince them of anything. But, hey, when even your own tell you this, you kick them out the door.

So, go ahead and continue being on "high alert" - which is laughable. You can't even protect your own political survival. So why trust you guys with the more difficults tasks of defense and national security? Continue complaining. And most importantly, continue to purge yourselves of those pesky people who asking for reason and moderation. Keep doing these things and liberals and the Democratic party will not have to lift a finger to kick your behinds in future elections. Your killing yourselves, guys. Keep it up!!!