Navigation Links
Scientists find growing consensus: Political attitudes derive from body and mind

Lincoln, Neb., July 31, 2014 -- Do people make a rational choice to be liberal or conservative? Do their mothers raise them that way? Is it a matter of genetics?

Two political scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a colleague from Rice University say that neither conscious decision-making nor parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left while others lean right.

A growing body of evidence shows that physiological responses and deep-seated psychology are at the core of political differences, the researchers say in the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

"Politics might not be in our souls, but it probably is in our DNA," says the article written by political scientists John Hibbing and Kevin Smith of UNL and John Alford of Rice University.

"These natural tendencies to perceive the physical world in different ways may in turn be responsible for striking moments of political and ideological conflict throughout history," Alford said.

Using eye-tracking equipment and skin conductance detectors, the three researchers have observed that conservatives tend to have more intense reactions to negative stimuli, such as photos of people eating worms, burning houses or maggot-infested wounds.

Combining their own results with similar findings from other researchers around the world, the team proposes that this so-called "negativity bias" may be a common factor that helps define the difference between conservatives, with their emphasis on stability and order, and liberals, with their emphasis on progress and innovation.

"Across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative," the researchers wrote.

The researchers caution that they make no value judgments about this finding. In fact, some studies show that conservatives, despite their quickness to detect threats, are happier overall than liberals. And all people, whether liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, tend to be more alert to the negative than to the positive -- for good evolutionary reasons. The harm caused by negative events, such as infection, injury and death, often outweighs the benefits brought by positive events.

"We see the 'negativity bias' as a common finding that emerges from a large body of empirical studies done not just by us, but by many other research teams around the world," Smith explained. "We make the case in this article that negativity bias clearly and consistently separates liberals from conservatives."

The most notable feature about the negativity bias is not that it exists, but that it varies so much from person to person, the researchers said.

"Conservatives are fond of saying 'liberals just don't get it,' and liberals are convinced that conservatives magnify threats," Hibbing said. "Systematic evidence suggests both are correct."

Many scientists appear to agree with the findings by Hibbing, Smith and Alford. More than 50 scientists contributed 26 peer commentary articles discussing the Behavioral and Brain Sciences article.

Only three or four of the articles seriously disputed the negativity bias hypothesis. The remainder accepted the general concept, while suggesting modifications such as better defining and conceptualizing a negativity bias; more deeply exploring its nature and origins; and more clearly defining liberalism and conservatism across history and culture.


Contact: John Hibbing
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Related biology news :

1. Scientists shine bright new light on how living things capture energy from the sun
2. Scientists discover biochemical mechanisms contributing to fibromuscular dysplasia
3. Conservation scientists asking wrong questions on climate change impacts on wildlife
4. Scientists reproduce evolutionary changes by manipulating embryonic development of mice
5. 23andMe scientists receive approximately $1.4 million in funding from National Institutes of Health
6. Scientists discover genetic switch that can prevent peripheral vascular disease in mice
7. Scientists discover new, noncommittal mechanism of drug resistance
8. New tools help neuroscientists analyze big data
9. NIH scientists find 6 new genetic risk factors for Parkinsons
10. NYSCF scientists one step closer to cell therapy for multiple sclerosis patients
11. NYSCF scientists 1 step closer to cell therapy for multiple sclerosis patients
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Scientists find growing consensus: Political attitudes derive from body and mind
(Date:11/12/2015)... -- A golden retriever that stayed healthy despite having the ... a new lead for treating this muscle-wasting disorder, report ... MIT and Harvard and the University of São Paolo ... Cell, pinpoints a protective gene that boosts muscle ... Boston Children,s lab of Lou Kunkel , PhD, ...
(Date:11/10/2015)... LONDON , Nov. 10, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... segmented on the basis of product, type, ... segments included in this report are consumables, ... this report are safety biomarkers, efficacy biomarkers, ... in this report are diagnostics development, drug ...
(Date:11/4/2015)... New York , November 4, 2015 ... to a new market report published by Transparency Market ... Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2015 - 2022", the global ... of US$ 30.3 bn by 2022. The market is ... the forecast period from 2015 to 2022. Rising security ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/23/2015)... --  Ceres, Inc . (Nasdaq: CERE ), an ... fiscal year ended August 31, 2015 and provided an ... --> During fiscal year 2015, Ceres refocused ... a better balance of yield, energy and nutrition. Among ... leading crop input providers and made significant progress in ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... ... November 23, 2015 , ... Shimadzu ... of its Nexera UC Unified Chromatography system. The award from R&D magazine recognizes ... products of the year in the analytical and testing category. R&D Magazine chose ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... GENEVA , November 23, 2015 ... to develop daclatasvir for 112 ... countries   --> --> ... licence for a hepatitis C medicine, signing an agreement with ... proven to help cure multiple genotypes of the HCV virus. ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... -- biochar market is estimated to ... is expected to grow with a CAGR of 17.1% ... of the global market include improved soil fertility and ... government initiatives and stringent environmental regulations, and waste management ... are the key drivers for the growth of the ...
Breaking Biology Technology: