Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Vote Your Biology

by Cally Carswell 


Tags: Science, politics of fear, politics, biology, Science Magazine, Wired,

Expression of the EmotionsBiology may have a say in who gets your vote this November. A new study published in Science found a correlation between physiological responses to threats and people’s partisan leanings. Test subjects with firm conservative political views displayed stronger physical reactions to unexpected loud noises and threatening images than those with liberal persuasions. While researchers didn't want the study to be interpreted too broadly, Wired reports, "the results suggest that fear leads to political conservatism."

This isn't the first time researchers have tried to crack the political biological code. A 2005 study by Berkeley psychologist Jack Block looked at the personality traits of a group of toddlers and checked back in with them as politically opinionated adults. Block's conclusions were certainly colorful:

…the relatively Liberal young men, when in nursery school two decades earlier, impressed nursery school teachers as boys who were: resourceful and initializing, autonomous, proud of their blossoming accomplishments, confident and self-involving. The relatively Conservative young men, when young boys, were viewed in nursery school as: visibly deviant, feeling unworthy and therefore ready to feel guilty, easily offended, anxious when confronted by uncertainties, distrustful of others, ruminative, and rigidifying when under stress.

A 2003 study by New York University psychologist John Jost reached similar conclusions. According to Seed, “Jost said his study found that an adult displaying heightened needs to manage uncertainty and threat was associated with an attraction to conservative ideas, while openness to new experiences and cognitive complexity correlated with liberal ideas.”

Not surprisingly, the findings of these studies have invited ample criticism. Selwyn Duke, writing for the American Thinker magazine" href="http://www.americanthinker.com/2006/03/do_bratty_kids_turn_into_conse.html" target="_blank">conservative American Thinker magazine, called the Block study “psycho-babble,” and came to the conclusion that “the social sciences today mainly serve to provide a specious scientific basis for liberalism.”

 

pamela butler
10/3/2008 10:50:41 AM

So easy to generalize about conservative and liberals, but Cathy, most research studies do have a technical side, which does rule out personal bias as best as is possible. We're not talking about personalities or everyday behavior, we're talking about people hooked up to sensors, kind of like lie detector sensors, given certain stimuli and documenting their reactions, more unconscious than not. A great read, for more in depth understanding of fear reactions and emotional responses in general is, "Emotional Intelligence" by David Goleman. I would recommend that book to anyone raising kids or dealing with difficult people in general. It is cutting edge understanding of how our brains really work.


gerald berke
10/2/2008 4:24:08 PM

Somewhat silly results from the so called "study". Why insult people without having good data, indeed, especially good data. I can't imagine anyone not able to come up with counter examples from personal experience. Maybe the conservative kids pick on the liberal kids to punish them for their fearless curiousity? or for their prowess in the chess club? or because the liberals on the football team have all the girls. Liberal thought deserves better than that.


michael singleton_3
10/2/2008 1:29:06 PM

Poor conservatives... everyone's out to get 'em. The media, the social sciences, the universities. They see enemies everywhere! Which is kind of what you'd expect if the findings of this study are true.


cathy_1
10/2/2008 1:21:47 PM

Let's do a study on how likely psychologists are to discover that the "well-adjusted" subjects in their studies are exactly like themselves. The conservative adults I know(by which I mean practical and resourceful)were autonomous, productive, proud of their accomplishments and creative as children and are so as adults. Look at the liberals now. So easily offended, so anxious, so rigid in following the pack and making others do so.