Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bork Is Not Björk-- Don't Forget, Even If You Have A Republican Brain


If you haven't already gotten and read Chris Mooney's two latest books, The Republican War On Science and The Republican Brain, I hope you at least watched the video of him explaining "The Science of Why They Don't Believe in Science" that we posted last week. It helps explain the bizarre behavior-- people voting for Republicans-- despite polling that shows most Independents and even a significant number of Republicans support fairly rational solutions to the country's problems-- like clean air and water. How else would you explain these kinds of data in light of how they vote for men and women determined to poison the air we breath and the water we drink?

And Mooney is hardly the only investigator who's finding something seriously wrong with right-wing brains. This week Freakonomics took a look as well and came up with findings that go hand in hand with Mooney's.
The authors test the hypothesis that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participants’ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4, participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought (recognition memory) partially mediated the relationship between processing effort and conservatism. Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases.

The BPS Digest places the research in a larger context: “The finding that reduced mental effort encourages more conservative beliefs fits with prior research suggesting that attributions of personal responsibility (versus recognizing the influence of situational factors), acceptance of hierarchy and preference for the status quo-- all of which may be considered hallmarks of conservative belief-- come naturally and automatically to most people, at least in western societies.”

So when GOP nominee-apparent Willard Romney reaches back a couple decades to rummage around in the Republican bag of tricks and comes up with thoroughly discredited Robert Bork as his chief advisor on judicial nominations, it feels kind of comfy for low-effort/low-info Republican primary voters. They're not concerned when Romney says "I wish he were already on the Supreme Court." Normal people, with normal, functioning brains, however, should be. Next week People For the American Way will be doing a major exposé on the dangers posed by Romney's decision to elevate an ideological fanatic like Bork to the top level of his team.

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