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The biology of politics: Liberals roll with the good, conservatives confront the bad
Date:1/5/2012

From cable TV news pundits to red-meat speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire, our nation's deep political stereotypes are on full display: Conservatives paint self-indulgent liberals as insufferably absent on urgent national issues, while liberals say fear-mongering conservatives are fixated on exaggerated dangers to the country.

A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests there are biological truths to such broad brushstrokes.

In a series of experiments, researchers closely monitored physiological reactions and eye movements of study participants when shown combinations of both pleasant and unpleasant images. Conservatives reacted more strongly to, fixated more quickly on, and looked longer at the unpleasant images; liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at the pleasant images compared with conservatives.

"It's been said that conservatives and liberals don't see things in the same way," said Mike Dodd, UNL assistant professor of psychology and the study's lead author. "These findings make that clear quite literally."

To gauge participants' physiological responses, they were shown a series of images on a screen. Electrodes measured subtle skin conductance changes, which indicated an emotional response. The cognitive data, meanwhile, was gathered by outfitting participants with eyetracking equipment that captured even the most subtle of eye movements while combinations of unpleasant and pleasant photos appeared on the screen.

While liberals' gazes tended to fall upon the pleasant images, such as a beach ball or a bunny rabbit, conservatives clearly focused on the negative images of an open wound, a crashed car or a dirty toilet, for example.

Consistent with the idea that conservatives seem to respond more to negative stimuli while liberals respond more to positive stimuli, conservatives also exhibited a stronger physiological response to images of Democratic politicians presum
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Contact: Mike Dodd, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
mdodd2@unl.edu
402-472-0547
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Source:Eurekalert

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