17 December 2007

Cognitive Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

"the more liberal-minded volunteers were better able to avoid the knee-jerk reaction."

This one of the conclusions from a study by David Amodio of New York University (summarized here at Scientific American Mind).

In the test, liberals and conservatives were asked to hit a button every time they saw M but not W. Given that M appeared about 80% of the time, hitting the button became a reflex. Liberals were more able to suppress this reflex when faced with the wrong stimulus. (Past studies have indicated that liberals are more comfortable with ambiguity and conservatives need structure. I look around my office and suspect that I need to hire a conservative office assistant.)

There are certainly exceptions to this general tendency. George Will stands out as someone who seems to generally think before making pronouncements. Huckabee, Ron Paul, and John McCain seem comfortable defying some of the typical conservative stereotypes. But after watching Republicans shout "tax cut" in response to every situation they face - including massive deficits and the expenses of war - this indictment sounds pretty spot on to me: conservatives are more likely to give the right response in the wrong situation.

In fact, coming from a family of conservatives, I can say that they often don't even need a stimulus to provide their canned responses. Like a back seat driver continually shouting "Turn right!" whether or not there is even an intersection, conservatives will eventually wonder why it is the country has tuned them out.

[Thanks to my daughter Jordan, the cog sci major, for this odd and interesting tip.]


cce said...

I'm so glad someone has finally put forth a reasonable explanation for my mother's tendency towards platitudes and stern I told you so's. She can't help but hit her canned response button, the one she's been hitting for 34 years. And, now, good liberal that I am, I have learned to tune her out.

LET'S TALK said...

I think we all have learned to tune out our parents at some point. Is that a bad thing?

David said...

Tax Increase! (for the rich only of course) - now, that isn't knee jerk?

LSD said...

Well, history has shown that conservatives are just more comfortable hitting the button for W.

-I propose a study of Mr. Amodio to find out why he didn't want anyone to select the W button.

Maybe we need to have independant observers present when they tally up the results.