Sunday, February 10, 2008

THE LIBERAL MIND vs THE CONSERVATIVE MIND-- IS IT GENETIC?

>


Earlier today, I referred to McCain as having a "reptilian mind." I admit that I wasn't being literal... just sort of impressionistic. However, some interesting new data has come my way since then and I'd like to share it with you-- the literal, non-impressionistic stuff.

I suspect that there aren't enough DWT readers who subscribe to the British weekly science magazine New Scientist. One who does, however, who is also a candidate for Congress, and reads very widely, sent me a fascinating new study from the magazine, "Two Tribes: Are Your Genes Liberal or Conservative?" It's the cover story and delves into the serious scientific research on the formation of political opinions. My attention was immediately focused on several conclusions which I had been noticing since my student days when I was president of the freshman class at college and of the school's Young Democrats:
"...a rather unflattering view of conservatives emerges from the studies. They are portrayed as dogmatic, routine-loving individuals, while liberals come across as free-spirited and open-minded folk."


The story suggests that it's probably pointless to try to change most people's minds about politics. "According to an emerging idea, political positions are substantially determined by biology and can be stubbornly resistant to reason. 'These views are deep-seated and built into our brains. Trying to persuade someone not to be liberal is like trying to persuade someone not to have brown eyes. We have to rethink persuasion,' says John Alford, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, Texas... [O]pinions on a long list of issues, from religion in schools to nuclear power and gay rights, have a substantial genetic component. The decision to vote rather than stay at home on election day may also be linked to genes. Neuroscientists have also got in on the act, showing that liberals and conservatives have different patterns of brain activity."
In 2003, John Jost, a psychologist at New York University, and colleagues surveyed 88 studies, involving more than 20,000 people in 12 countries, that looked for a correlation between personality traits and political orientation (American Psychologist, vol 61, p 651). Some traits are obviously going to be linked to politics, such as xenophobia being connected with the far right. However, Jost uncovered many more intriguing connections. People who scored highly on a scale measuring fear of death, for example, were almost four times more likely to hold conservative views. Dogmatic types were also more conservative, while those who expressed interest in new experiences tended to be liberals. Jost's review also noted research showing that conservatives prefer simple and unambiguous paintings, poems and songs. 

...A much stronger link exists between political orientation and openness, which psychologists define as including traits such as an ability to accept new ideas, a tolerance for ambiguity and an interest in different cultures. When these traits are combined, people with high openness scores turn out to be almost twice as likely to be liberals.

Combine the genetic influences on personality with the political tendencies of different personality types, and the idea that genetics shapes political tendencies seems very plausible indeed. All of the big five personality traits are highly heritable (Journal of Research in Personality, vol 32, p 431), with several studies suggesting that around half of the variation in openness scores is a result of genetic differences. Some traits that are linked to openness, such as being sociable, are also known to be influenced by the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. And levels of these chemicals are controlled in part by genes. So while there isn't a gene for liking hippies, there is probably a set of genes that influences openness, which in turn may influence political orientation.

So now we know something about Eric Cartman's genes but so far "no one has yet identified a gene that correlates with liberalism or conservatism." However if Jost's work is correct, the difference in measures of certain brain activities between liberals and conservatives between liberals and conservatives should be marked. "Tasks that involve dealing with conflicting information, for example, are known to activate an area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Since liberals are generally more open to conflicting ideas, activity in this area of the brain would be expected to differ between them and conservatives. According to a study in Nature Neuroscience (vol 10, p 1246) that is exactly what a study last September by NYU's David Amodio does show. His research links that difference to brain activity. "Electrodes placed on subjects' skulls revealed that liberals had greater ACC activity... Liberals also had higher activity immediately after making a mistake, and the greater the activity, the better their performance over many rounds. The results, says Amodio, suggest that basic brain mechanisms, such as those that control habit formation, may distinguish liberal minds from conservative ones."

Labels: ,

27 Comments:

At 2:41 PM, OpenID K5GLH said...

This was a very entertaining story in that while attempting to make an objective point, it is clear the author is of the liberal mind. I do not mean to be critical, but you could just as easily spin these studies to say those of a liberal mind tend to have no core values with which to base what they believe. It is easy to be free and spirited when the only thing that a liberal agrees as being absolutely wrong is to be a conservative. Most liberals that I know are simply relativists meaning that there are no absolutes and anyone that takes a viewpoint that is absolute, is seen as absolutely wrong.
This article was very well written. It does make some valid points such as not being able to change the view of a liberal or conservative. Being a conservative myself, I read the study as being biased from the start. I know that if you approach a study with the intention of proving something, you are likely to get the desired results. A good example would be the never ending recount of the 2000 election in Florida. The intention there was to keep counting until you get the desired results. This was evident by the selection of a few counties instead of recounting the entire state.

 
At 4:18 PM, Anonymous cbear said...

Amazing, simply amazing.

DWT publishes a post regarding the reflexive inability of conservatives to consider, or even understand, any subject or theory outside their narrow experience...

And, right on cue, conservative commenter k5glh toddles up to the plate, takes a mighty swing at the subject---misses completely and falls on his face---then spits at the pitcher and leaves the field of play...thereby perfectly proving the accuracy of the cited studies.

Awesome.

 
At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

k5glh?
Katherine Harris's unpaid plastic surgeon?

SHE HA$ MONEY! Just because she is universally scorned by both parties doesn't mean she spent her daddy's money. It is in a lock box (Al Gore SS type) or chest.
It is in HER CHEST first, but she should PAY YOU!

 
At 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Cbear, it appears quite clearly that you missed what the conservative poster was stating. Reading it again with that "open" liberal mind of yours and maybe you'll see what he was aiming at. Personally I have found liberals to be very closed minded about subjects they are passionate about, in a way not much different than say the more religious are about anything, like Darwinism, that challenges their view point. And yes as the other poster points out, it is very possible that someone's views may come out in the research that they do. Bias is a subtle thing, ask any Clinton hater about any accusation about him and now her, or ask any Bush hater about any charge against Bush and you should (if you are an open minded sort) see what I'm talking about.

BTW: If you disagree with the point, address the point if you can, simply attacking the poster gives the impression that you didn't grasp what he/she talked about.

 
At 3:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good example would be the never ending recount of the 2000 election in Florida. The intention there was to keep counting until you get the desired results. This was evident by the selection of a few counties instead of recounting the entire state.

And here the conservative has not even investigated the facts, just restates what their partisan authority figure has told them. I suppose it is liberal of me to have checked out the Florida statutes, at the time, in order to see which side was right.

As an independent review would have revealed, the statute is set up so that each side is supposed to flag only those counties where they believe there has been a problem, rather than having an unnecessarily extensive statewide recount. There was no bad faith in requesting that only the counties where there was a problem be recounted.

Of course, Bush & Co. demanded a statewide recount, and then started gaming the system in safe Republican counties, where there had been no problems, in order increase the reported votes in those counties.

 
At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would highly advise anyone interested in this subject to read this online book about authoritarians.
http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

 
At 7:12 AM, Anonymous HLBumpkin said...

Maybe this explains my txt msg speak for one of the GOP, wtfaB

 
At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

WOW.

I don't think it is just my computer and I don't know who did that artwork, but I clicked on it and you get a HUGE blowup, and there's a LOT going on in there. Would be interested in the artist (scary) if we have one.
Maybe just a screenshot from the security camera after W passed out from the pretzel? (was it...Satan?...the church lady wants to know).

Thanks HOWIE.

 
At 11:53 AM, Anonymous cbear said...

anon--

Um, no, I understood EXACTLY what the conservative commenter was attempting to convey since it's the standard line of defense from goopers whenever they are confronted with evidence that contradicts their worldview or mindset.
Bias! Bias! Liberal Media! Liberal Scientists!
(See: global warming, Iraq War, Darwinian Theory, U.S. economy, George Bush, etc., etc,...ad infinitum, ad nauseum.)

Aside from the "Godless Liberal" argument (and insult) of the first part of the comment--the nut graph in k5glh's comment is the last one in which he insults the intelligence of the reader(s), and displays his own ignorance, by attempting to reduce an extraordinarily complex legal situation (Fla recount) to a simple rightwing talking point-- and in the process ignores the overwhelming evidence that the Fla result did not reflect the will of the electorate.
(See: West Palm Beach Jews for Buchanan, purging of voter rolls, 13,000 vote flip flop in Volusia County, etc., etc.,...ad infinitum, ad nauseum.)

Sorry, after 7 years of listening to this bullshit, I choose to respond to stupidity with ridicule.

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Steve said...

I do think it's a bit simplistic to portray liberals as "free-spirited and open-minded," while portraying conservatives as "dogmatic and routine-loving." But I think there are clear differences between the two mindsets. The title of this study really says it all--"Two Tribes." Knowing nothing about this study, I wrote a blog entry several weeks ago about the possibility of a genetic basis to political orientation. I believe that it has more to do with tribalistic tendencies. The conservative political mindset centers around a sense of exclusivity, separateness, and xenophobia (whether it's immigrants, liberals, those of other religions, etc.), while feeling regularly threatened by those outside of one's "tribe." Whereas, the liberal political mindset centers around an antithetical set of beliefs--inclusiveness, diversity, tolerance, and "leveling the playing field." Neither are inherently good or bad, but they do reflect a clear difference in terms of worldview.

These differences in mindset are so clearly defined that it’s often an easy matter to deduce one’s political persuasion merely by reading bumper stickers on a car. An American flag sticker typically means: conservative. A sticker picturing the earth as a whole typically means: liberal. A sticker picturing a specific religious symbol usually means: conservative. A sticker picturing all religious symbols placed alongside one another usually means: liberal.

Several of the posts here point out that liberals can be just as dogmatic in their beliefs, and I think that's true. Hyper-liberalism is really just the flip side of hyper-conservatism, and probably driven by the same genetic tendencies--simply molded in that direction by environment/upbringing.

For those interested in my full blog entry on the subject, see: http://stevenmeloan.blogspot.com/2008/01/gene-genie.html

 
At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Peggy said...

In the '80s, when I was in my 40s, I switched from conservative (Republican) to liberal (Independent - then Democrat), over an issue: abortion.
So it can happen.

I also think the Republican Party went from moderation to so far over on the right that it moved out from under my feet.

I really don't think I have changed my views or thinking so much either.

 
At 1:20 PM, Anonymous t4toby said...

I wrote a post about this:

Relax. the neocons are doomed.

 
At 5:13 AM, Blogger Paula ;) said...

"The story suggests that it's probably pointless to try to change most people's minds about politics."

Somebody needed to be TOLD this?!? I've never actually known anyone to be talked out of their beliefs, so I don't know why this would come as a surprise to anyone.

And as far as political affiliation being "genetic", it only makes sense that if someone grows up to be "liberal" or "conservative" in their beliefs that they would follow suit with their political affiliation. WTF? Why is this even being studied?!? Have we lost all our own common sense that we're not able to figure things out without doing a study on it?!? Of course the people that do these studies need jobs too... =-/

 
At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets try a different spin: Conservatives are hard working, productive people who willingly work under less than optimal conditions if they have a specific end goal in mind, while liberals are a pack of head-in-the-clouds layabouts who try to tax the earnings of their hard working opposites "for the common good" while carving off a big fat slice with most of the gravy for themselves.

One interpretation is about as accurate as the other, although mine is much more fun.

As someone who defined himself as a liberal until 9/11 happened and I began to do some serious political reading, I find that most conservative writers, (excluding Rush Limbaugh and Ann Colter) are actually capable of reasoned thought and rational argument; frankly much better at it than most so called liberal thinkers. And people who define themselves as 'progressive' generally reason and write on the level of feces throwing monkeys (see Code Pink). Note the more reasonable level of discourse displayed here by what seem to be the more conservative commenters.

And btw, just because I don't toe the liberal party line doesn't make me a conservative; however I have often been labeled a 'troll' on certain websites simply for asking qestions or pointing out certain inconvenient facts.

 
At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interesting that there is a strong association between "liberal" and "open minded", and the converse association of close-mindedness with conservatism.

It would seem to me to be the opposite: The conservative view is that of individual liberty, and personal responsibility. Hence, the conservative view is open minded in the sense that every man (woman) is believed to have a natural right to do and believe what they wish (so long as they do not intrude on other's rights).

The liberal view is often coercive: The group is perceived to dominate morally over the individual, and the group invests the state with more and more "rights" to force conformance from the individual. Witness, for instance, Clinton's ideas of "mandatory" health insurance. This is not "open minded", it is fascist!

I have never understood how this all got so inverted.

 
At 1:28 PM, Blogger Paula ;) said...

Anonymous said...
"It is interesting that there is a strong association between "liberal" and "open minded", and the converse association of close-mindedness with conservatism."

"It would seem to me to be the opposite: The conservative view is that of individual liberty, and personal responsibility. Hence, the conservative view is open minded in the sense that every man (woman) is believed to have a natural right to do and believe what they wish (so long as they do not intrude on other's rights)."

Well, no, not everyone is believed to have the natural right to do and believe as they wish when it comes to conservatives, such as with the issue of abortion. While I would never consider an abortion for myself, I do not see that I nor my government has any right to tell me or any woman that she cannot have one. I've always believed that that as a decision between a woman and God -- not anyone else. How is telling a woman she cannot have an abortion giving her individual liberty and personal responsibility?

"The liberal view is often coercive: The group is perceived to dominate morally over the individual, and the group invests the state with more and more "rights" to force conformance from the individual. Witness, for instance, Clinton's ideas of "mandatory" health insurance. This is not "open minded", it is fascist!"

I've always had health insurance and I've probably taken it for granted, in fact I KNOW I've taken it for granted, but I also know that there are millions of Americans without it. I believe that the party would love to see not a single American without health insurance. Whether or not that ever comes to fruition, is a completely different story. But most Americans live paycheck to paycheck and would not be able to afford another large bill a month for health insurance if they had to buy it themselves. The company I work for pays $1000 a month per family! That's like a second house payment for most people and something most could not afford! So what exactly is wrong about a country trying to care for her own?

"I have never understood how this all got so inverted."

Honestly, I don't consider myself a liberal or a conservative. I've worked full time for my entire adult life and have always supported my own. I have high morals, but I don't expect others to believe as I do. I am willing to help anyone who is helping themselves, and no, I don't mean to the cookie jar!

I've always felt that we are much more ALIKE than we are different. But then again, I've always looked for the good in people rather than the bad.

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger rightwingrick said...

Yes, I agree. You should resist believing anything in the research.

 
At 5:59 AM, Anonymous Carlo said...

Good Job! :)

 
At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"anonymous" mentioned Bob Altmeyer's study on authoritarian personality types. His book "The Authoritarians" can be read online at http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

Altmeyer's book first came to my attention while reading John Dean's book "Conservatives without Conscience".
If you would like to read an original treatment by Jost (at the time at Stanford) and colleagues at Cal Berkley (Glaser, Sulloway) and UMD (Kruglanski)on this very fascinating subject, it is titled "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition"

http://www.13thmonkey.org/documentation/politics/conservatism-studies.pdf

Jost et al analyze political conservatism through theories of personality and establish a psychological basis for political ideology while considering that people adapt conservative ideologies for social reasons. As established in their thesis, significant psychological associations with political conservatism are identified that help explain the behavior of conservative posters on this board, including rigidity, dogmatism, need for cognitive closure, and a personal need for structure and systems justification. Why the beligerent responses? I suspect Jost would ascribe this behavior to other significant psychological associations he identified, including fear, aggression and the desire for group based dominance.

As I am sure my conservative compatriots will appreciate, I apply these ideas in an American History course I teach to explore the behavior and motivation of our first aristocrat, Alexander Hamilton, who is singularly responsible for the creation of the political parties our Framers detested and which explains the need for the 12th Amendment to the Constitution.

To close, I would suggest the obvious: that conservatives are precluded from recognizing these personaliity traits by the very nature of the traits themselves.

I have a long-held view that genetics plays a part in our political viewpoint; that, to use my own term, we are "imprismed" ("hardwired") to see the world a certain way, as suggested by the referenced British study.

 
At 4:17 PM, Blogger derfefww said...

I always heard something from my neighbor that he sometimes goes to the internet bar to play the game which will use him some shadow of legend Gold,he usually can win a lot of sol gold,then he let his friends all have some cheap shadow of legend Gold,his friends thank him very much for introducing them the shadow of legend Gold money,they usually buy shadow of legend Gold together.

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is another study that impacts on the "nature vs. nurture" discussion regarding political identification and behavior. (Dean also references it in his book, "Conservatives Without Conscience.) It is a 20-year longitudinal study done by Jack and Block at UCLA, Berkley. (Think I got that right.) They tested the personality characteristics of a group of nursery schoolers and then, 20 years later, the political identification of that same group. Like Jost et al, they found a high correlation between personality characteristics (according to psychology's "Big 5" -- check Wikipedia for a description of this widely-used personality and social psychology scheme) and political orientation. In fact, the Jost study was a metastudy that covered relevant research over a 20-yr. period and included the Block study. (All this research was relevant to my dissertation which is why I'm familiar w/ it.)

Personally, as an educational neuropsychologist, I think political orientation is a combination of both inherited and environmental influences. However, since the most influential influences on the developing child are from parents and children inherit their genes from their parents (and other ancestors), it makes sense that there would be synchronicity between the two.

While Altemeyer has created his own personality style, as a social psychologist, he hasn't made the leap to personality disorders. This is a task I am taking on in a book I am in the process of writing on personality and politics.

Anyone interested in this topic may want to peruse Christopher Lasch's "The Culture of Narcissism" (written in the late 70s but even more true today) and Twenge and Campbell's "The Narcissism Epidemic." While neither directly address politics, they do a stellar job of articulating societal influences that can easily be seen within the political landscape.

 
At 6:38 AM, Blogger Laura Moon said...

I'm a research psychologist, disabled, but trying to keep up in my field. This is a question I began thinking about as a child. I plan to write a review article of all the literature I can find on this subject, but I need to address it to a seventh-grade reading level. Thanks for this! Any suggestions re other research would be appreciated.

 
At 3:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:
It would seem to me to be the opposite: The conservative view is ..open minded in the sense that every man (woman) is believed to have a natural right to do and believe what they wish (so long as they do not intrude on others rights).

And this applies to the gay rights debate how exactly? Conservatives overwhelming disapprove of homosexuality and giving gays equal footing in marriage.

Conservatives also disapprove of the Park51 center. This is intruding on who's rights again?

Getting more conservative only emphasizes the general point. Who populated the Klan? Who hung blacks?

Who fought for equal rights? Who marched with MLK?

The historical evidence is overwhelming. Conservatives fought for slavery, resisted reconstruction, created Jim Crow laws, then against women voting, then intermarriage between races, then equal rights for blacks...

Then every kind of child labor, workplace safety and environmental law- which is nothing but parity for the rich and working classes i.e. the rich can force the working classes to drink the water they poisoned while they were making money and which the rich themselves will not be forced to drink)- on and on and on throughout history.

Conservative Christians in Uganda are planning legislation to kill homosexuals there, a scheme they hope will serve as a model for all of Africa, and were guided in this by conservatives here int eh US (see the book The Family and Terri Gross on NPR for details).

Conservative religious nuts also slammed two planes into the twin towers. We're fighting not against liberal Islam but against conservative Islam- people who think that modern Islam is not conservative enough.

Or are those latte sipping liberals who did that in your mind?

It's a joke. Where ever you have the religious conservative impulse you have the worst kind of behaviour. The two go hand in hand, hand in glove.


So how is it that you can't read the facts of history which are right before your face and understand that what you said in the above quote is the polar opposite from the truth?

This is exactly what they're talking about in the study. No amount of evidence or argumentation will change your view about reality because it's genetically hard wired in you to believe what you believe.

You're hard wired to go on thinking up another rationalization to deny the obvious. You're doing it right now. You're still doing it. You're still doing it.

See how that works?

No? Not surprising.

The liberal view is often coercive: The group is perceived to dominate morally over the individual, and the group invests the state with more and more "rights" to force conformance from the individual. Witness, for instance, Clinton's ideas of "mandatory" health insurance. This is not "open minded", it is fascist!

 
At 3:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:
It would seem to me to be the opposite: The conservative view is ..open minded in the sense that every man (woman) is believed to have a natural right to do and believe what they wish (so long as they do not intrude on others rights).

And this applies to the gay rights debate how exactly? Conservatives overwhelming disapprove of homosexuality and giving gays equal footing in marriage.

Conservatives also disapprove of the Park51 center. This is intruding on who's rights again?

Getting more conservative only emphasizes the general point. Who populated the Klan? Who hung blacks?

Who fought for equal rights? Who marched with MLK?

The historical evidence is overwhelming. Conservatives fought for slavery, resisted reconstruction, created Jim Crow laws, then against women voting, then intermarriage between races, then equal rights for blacks...

 
At 3:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reply to conservative anonymous PART 2:

Then every kind of child labor, workplace safety and environmental law- which is nothing but parity for the rich and working classes i.e. the rich can force the working classes to drink the water they poisoned while they were making money and which the rich themselves will not be forced to drink)- on and on and on throughout history.

Conservative Christians in Uganda are planning legislation to kill homosexuals there, a scheme they hope will serve as a model for all of Africa, and were guided in this by conservatives here int eh US (see the book The Family and Terri Gross on NPR for details).

Conservative religious nuts also slammed two planes into the twin towers. We're fighting not against liberal Islam but against conservative Islam- people who think that modern Islam is not conservative enough.

Or are those latte sipping liberals who did that in your mind?

It's a joke. Where ever you have the religious conservative impulse you have the worst kind of behaviour. The two go hand in hand, hand in glove.


So how is it that you can't read the facts of history which are right before your face and understand that what you said in the above quote is the polar opposite from the truth?

This is exactly what they're talking about in the study. No amount of evidence or argumentation will change your view about reality because it's genetically hard wired in you to believe what you believe.

You're hard wired to go on thinking up another rationalization to deny the obvious. You're doing it right now. You're still doing it. You're still doing it.

See how that works?

No? Not surprising.

 
At 9:28 AM, Anonymous michael cruise said...

@K5GLH: You assume that having an open mind equates to having no core values and your assumption is entirely wrong. It just means that we are open to the possibility that our core beliefs might change as new facts evolve. In other words, we don't stick to our guns when/if one of our beliefs is proven to based on false premises.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Cal SSDP said...

If anyone scientifically-oriented would like to see the original paper "Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism" here is a link:
http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v10/n10/full/nn1979.html

it may require a proxy server with an academic institution, but you can search google for the title in quotations. I'm one who likes to check the research methods ;) I must be liberal.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home