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
|Contact: John Hibbing|
University of Nebraska-Lincoln