The Watering Hole, Monday, August 5, 2013: Of Two Minds

Over the past seven years there have been at least sixteen studies done on the differences, if any, between the brains of self-described conservatives and those of self-described liberals. The results show many substantial differences, not simply in physiology but in the framework within which we view things. The studies began with a Sept 2006 report which showed

“Conservatives slept somewhat more soundly, with fewer remembered dreams. Liberals were more restless in their sleep and had a more active and varied dream life. In contrast to a previous study, liberals reported a somewhat greater proportion of bad dreams and nightmares. Consistent with earlier research, the dreams of conservatives were more mundane, whereas the dreams of liberals were more bizarre…

I can report that I am a Liberal who has had some remarkably bizarre dreams. Jane, too. So that checks out.

A year later a report was published finding that “When faced with a conflict, liberals are more likely than conservatives to alter their habitual response when cues indicate it is necessary.” Or, in the more technical geek speak

“Our results are consistent with the view that political orientation, in part, reflects individual differences in the functioning of a general mechanism related to cognitive control and self-regulation. Stronger conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with less neurocognitive sensitivity to response conflicts. At the behavioral level, conservatives were also more likely to make errors of commission. Although a liberal orientation was associated with better performance on the response-inhibition task examined here, conservatives would presumably perform better on tasks in which a more fixed response style is optimal.”

I couldn’t agree more. Or less, for that matter, since without the translation, I would not have known what they were saying. I do know that when the plain reality before me differs from what I expected to happen, I have to alter my plans to account for such an eventuality. Happens to me all the time. So that checks out.

A little more than a year later, a report, despite its authors attempt at a poetic title, concluded that “Liberals are more open-minded and creative whereas conservatives are more orderly and better organized.”

“We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant, especially with respect to social (vs. economic) dimensions of ideology. In general, liberals are more open-minded, creative, curious, and novelty seeking, whereas conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and better organized… A special advantage of our final two studies is that they show personality differences between liberals and conservatives not only on self-report trait measures but also on unobtrusive, nonverbal measures of interaction style and behavioral residue.”

Yeah. You do and you’ll clean it up. Well, my desk at work is pretty messy, in part because I change how I want to organize it with each piece of paper I put on it. So that checks out.

About that same time a report concluded (what would later turn out to be) the first links between fear and the Conservative mind. The report said that “Conservatives tend to have a stronger reaction to threatening noises and images than liberals.” Or, to hear it in psychobabble-speak

“In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.”

BOO! Did you get overly excited? I didn’t. So that checks out.

Six months later the reports started picking up in frequency. We learned that “Compared to liberals, conservatives are less open to new experiences and learn better from negative stimuli than positive stimuli.”

“In this study, the relations among political ideology, exploratory behavior, and the formation of attitudes toward novel stimuli were explored. Participants played a computer game that required learning whether these stimuli produced positive or negative outcomes. Learning was dependent on participants’ decisions to sample novel stimuli… Political ideology correlated with exploration during the game, with conservatives sampling fewer targets than liberals. Moreover, more conservative individuals exhibited a stronger learning asymmetry, such that they learned negative stimuli better than positive… Relative to liberals, politically conservative individuals pursued a more avoidant strategy to the game…

The reluctance to explore that characterizes more politically conservative individuals may protect them from experiencing negative situations, for they are likely to restrict approach to known positives.”

For conservatives, it’s less carrot and more stick. From my own experience, I tended to learn things better, and more readily recall what I learned, when there was positive stimulation to learning it. I don’t want to immediately recall the things I had beaten into me, especially if I’m trying to train one of my co-workers how to do something. My bosses frown on physically abusing co-workers. So that checks out.

A few months later we learned that “Genetics influence political attitudes during early adulthood and beyond.”

“The present research attempts to characterize how the transmission of political orientations develops over the life course… [G]enetic influences on political attitudes are absent prior to young adulthood. During childhood and adolescence, individual differences in political attitudes are accounted for by a variety of environmental influences… However, at the point of early adulthood (in the early 20s), for those who left their parental home, there is evidence of a sizeable genetic influence on political attitudes which remains stable throughout adult life.”

My own political leanings started emerging as I learned more and more that I disagreed with my conservative father’s way of looking at things. My time in the Air Force, where I met people from all over the country (and some parts of Europe), opened up my eyes to so many things I know he never experienced. So I’m sure I got my liberal leanings from my mother. So I’m going to say that one possibly checks out.

In August 2009 we learned that “Conservatism is focused on preventing negative outcomes, while liberalism is focused on advancing positive outcomes.”

“Political liberalism and conservatism differ in provide versus protect orientations, specifically providing for group members’ welfare (political Left) and protecting the group from harm (political Right). These reflect the fundamental psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivation. Conservatism is avoidance based; it is focused on preventing negative outcomes (e.g., societal losses) and seeks to regulate society via inhibition (restraints) in the interests of social order. Liberalism is approach based; it is focused on advancing positive outcomes (e.g., societal gains) and seeks to regulate society via activation (interventions) in the interests of social justice.”

This ties in with the earlier study that showed Conservatives responded better to negative stimuli. So their thinking is along the lines of “What should I do to make this not hurt?” My solutions tend to be of the “How can we all benefit from this?”-variety. So that checks out.

A month later we found that “Conservatives have more activity in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, the part of the brain that activates for complex social evaluations.”

“The conservatism dimension, which corresponds to the liberal-to-conservative criterion, was associated with activity in the right DLPFC [dorsolateral prefrontal cortex]…

In this study, we speculate that activity in the DLPFC may reflect a role of this region in deliberative decision-making in complex social evaluations… The observation that this region was increasingly activated by conservative beliefs could be explained by claiming that conservative statements require more complex social judgments marked by greater cognitive dissonance between self-interest and sense of fairness…

[W]e showed that the representation of complex political beliefs relies on three fundamental dimensions, each reflected in distinctive patterns of neural activation: The degree of individualism of political beliefs was linearly associated with activation in the medial PFC [prefrontal cortex] and TPJ [temporoparietal junction], the degree of conservatism with activation in the DLPFC, and the degree of radicalism with activation in the ventral striatum and PC/P [posterior cingulate/precuneus]. Our findings support the interpretation that the political belief system depends on a set of social cognitive processes including those that enable a person to judge themselves and other people, make decisions in ambivalent social situations, and comprehend motivational and emotional states.”

Okay, you got me on this one. If by all this they mean that people like me don’t spend so much time analyzing the people we meet and compare them to our pre-held beliefs then, yes, this one checks out, too. Otherwise, I guess so.

In 2010 we learned that “Conservatives and liberals react similarly to positive incentives, but conservatives have greater sensitivity to negative stimuli.”

“Our findings suggest that conservatives are sensitive to avoidance motivation [motivation through negative stimuli], which produces ‘inhibition’ responses manifested in greater rigidity… Based on the studies’ findings, we would not expect differences between liberals and conservatives in responding to positive stimuli or incentives (i.e., approach cues), but we would expect greater inhibitory reactions by conservatives in response to negative, avoidant cues. Self-regulation appears to provide a useful perspective for understanding how one’s political views may affect categorization processes and, more broadly, the association between political conservatism and rigidity.”

Once again, we see that hint of “Avoid bad things” rather than “Seek good things.” Again, the positive incentives work much, much better for me. So that checks out.

That year brought forth another study, this one about how Republicans and Democrats interpret facial expressions. As this was 2010, it’s safe to interchange Republican with Conservative and Democrat with Liberal in the summary statement “Republicans are more likely than Democrats to interpret faces as threatening and expressing dominant emotions, while Democrats show greater emotional distress and lower life satisfaction.”

“Independent sample t-tests revealed group differences in the averaged threat interpretation scores of the 10 facial stimuli. Republican sympathizers were more likely to interpret the faces as signaling a threatening expression as compared to Democrat sympathizers. Group differences were also found for dominance perceptions, whereby Republican sympathizers were more likely to perceive the faces as expressing dominant emotions than were Democrat sympathizers…

Collectively, when compared to Republican sympathizers, Democrat sympathizers showed greater psychological distress, more frequent histories of adverse life events such as interpersonal victimization experiences, fewer and less satisfying relationships, and lower perceptions of the trustworthiness of peers and intimate affiliates.”

Let’s just say I don’t disagree and move on. 😉

Things were quiet on the Liberal/Conservative brain study front until January of 2011 when we were told “Liberals follow the direction of eye movements better than conservatives.”

“In the present study, we examine whether gaze cue effects [the ability to follow the direction of another individual’s eye movements or gaze] are moderated by political temperament, given that those on the political right tend to be more supportive of individualism—and less likely to be influenced by others—than those on the left. We find standard gaze cuing effects across all subjects, but systematic differences in these effects by political temperament. Liberals exhibit a very large gaze cuing effect while conservatives show no such effect at various SOAs [stimulus onset asynchrony]…

Perhaps conservatives are less likely to trust others meaning that they are also less likely to trust a gaze cue…”

I tend to notice when the person I’m talking to is looking elsewhere. So that checks out.

Shortly after we learned that “Conservatives have stronger motivations than liberals to preserve purity and cleanliness.”

“…[R]eminders of physical purity influence specific moral judgments regarding behaviors in the sexual domain as well as broad political attitudes…

…[E]nvironmental reminders of physical cleanliness shifted participants’ attitudes toward the conservative end of the political spectrum and altered their specific attitudes toward various moral acts… When taken together, these two sets of results point to the possibility that political orientation may be, in some measure, shaped by the strength of an individual’s motivation to avoid physical contamination and that resulting vigilance for threats to purity may serve to reinforce a politically conservative stance toward the world.”

Like I said, see my desk. So this checks out, too.

By April, 2011, we learned that “Liberals have more tolerance to uncertainty (bigger anterior cingulate cortex), and conservatives have more sensitivity to fear (bigger right amygdala).”

“In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI [magnetic resonance imaging]. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala…

…[O]ur findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty. The amygdala has many functions, including fear processing. Individuals with a larger amygdala are more sensitive to fear, which, taken together with our findings, might suggest the testable hypothesis that individuals with larger amygdala are more inclined to integrate conservative views into their belief systems… our finding of an association between anterior cingulate cortex [ACC] may be linked with tolerance to uncertainty. One of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex is to monitor uncertainty and conflicts. Thus it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.”

Finally, we begin to understand why Conservatives seem to be afraid of just about everything around them. Because the part of their brains that processes fear is larger, while the part that handles uncertainty is smaller. So this checks out.

When it comes to things people find disgusting, there’s a big difference in how liberals and conservatives act (or react.)”Conservatives react more strongly than liberals to disgusting images, such as a picture of someone eating worms.”

“People who believe they would be bothered by a range of hypothetical disgusting situations display an increased likelihood of displaying right-of-center rather than left-of-center political orientations… In this article, we demonstrate that individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images [measured by change in mean skin conductance], such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images.”

Considering how they react to images that disgust them, and considering how much time they obviously spend thinking about male homosexuality, it’s no wonder they have such a visceral reaction to the SCOTUS decision striking down DOMA. The sight of two women kissing has never bothered me. So that checks out.

Last year we learned that if you don’t put much thought into it, you’re going to come out with Conservative ideas. “Reliance on quick, efficient, and “low effort” thought processes yields conservative ideologies, while effortful and deliberate reasoning yields liberal ideologies.”

“…[P]olitical conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking. When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient; these conditions promote conservative ideology… low-effort thought might promote political conservatism because its concepts are easier to process, and processing fluency increases attitude endorsement.

Four studies support our assertion that low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism… Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural.”

I have to agree with this one, too. When we try to come up with quick solutions to our problems, we tend to come out with conservative-minded ideas. So that checks out.

Finally, a study came out saying “Conservatives spend more time looking at unpleasant images, and liberals spend more time looking at pleasant images.”

“We report evidence that individual-level variation in people’s physiological and attentional responses to aversive and appetitive stimuli are correlated with broad political orientations. Specifically, we find that greater orientation to aversive stimuli tends to be associated with right-of-centre and greater orientation to appetitive (pleasing) stimuli with left-of-centre political inclinations.”

Wouldn’t it be funny if they were both looking at the same image of two guys having sex? I don’t know about them, but I like looking at pictures of cute baby animals. So does Jane. So that checks out, too.

Jane’s Discussion Summary: There is obviously vast evidence that there are at least two sub-species of homo sapiens sapiens, let’s call them H.s.s. conservative and H.s.s. liberal. This naturally leads to the following questions:

What is Nature/Evolution up to?
Is it a phenomenon that is isolated to the United States, or is it planet-wide?
Are both sub-species necessary to the planet?
Can both sub-species co-exist peaceably? or,
Will it become necessary to separate them?

This is our Open Thread. Have at it.

73 thoughts on “The Watering Hole, Monday, August 5, 2013: Of Two Minds

  1. I believe that conservatives also tend to lack empathy and tend to be self-centered in decision making: “What do ‘I’ get out of it?” is a conservative mantra.

  2. “Our findings suggest that conservatives are sensitive to avoidance motivation [motivation through negative stimuli]….”

    This is used on so many levels in conservative messaging as is apparent in conservative radio hosts, television talking heads (and leggy blonds), conservative newspapers, conservative web offerings and especially conservative advertising.

    Would a baseball bat applied liberally to the back of, say Bill O’Reilly’s head, work as a negative stimulus in motivation?

  3. ~”House Republicans will take a carefully orchestrated, staunchly anti-Washington campaign to voters this month, blaming President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats for Americans’ unhappiness with government.”~

    um….okie dokie

    • “House Republicans will take a carefully orchestrated” As if they’re capable of this much planning and discipline. Are the Koch brothers going to hire actors who look like the reps to handle it for them?

    • “…blaming President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats for…” (fill in the blank with anything negative or bad).

      And this is different than always… how? The republicans have blamed President Obama for things gone wrong before he ever took the oath of office, fer cryin’ out loud! They have been conducting an orchestrated staunchly anti-Washington campaign against President Obama and the Democrats from the moment, THE MOMENT, that Obama won the election.

      In contrast to this republican plan for orchestrated campaigning, I wonder when have the republicans praised President Obama or the Democrats since… well…. Ever?

    • Interview just ended. It was scheduled for fifteen-twenty minutes and he gave her the whole hour!
      The show will be available later on her Youtube site, ICYMI.

      • ~”Wall Street is projected to earn $198.5 billion in profits, while tech companies are expected to earn $183.1 billion. Within the financial sector the most ‘speculative sectors’, investment banks and brokerage houses, are dominant and dynamic growing 40% in 2013 .Over 20% of the S and P 500 corporate profits are concentrated in the financial sector.

        The new speculative bubble of 2012 – 2013 is a product of the central bank’s (the Federal Reserve in the United States) low (virtually zero) interest policies which allows Wall Street to borrow cheaply and speculate, activities which puff up stock prices but do not generate employment, depress industry and further polarize the economy.

        The bi-polar world of rich bankers in the North racking up record profits and workers everywhere receiving a shrinking share of national income spells out the class bases of “recovery” and “depression”, prosperity for the few and immiseration for the many. By the end of 2013, the imbalances between finance and production foretell a new cycle of boom and bust. Emblematic of the demise of the “productive economy” is the city of Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy: with 79,000 vacant homes, stores and factories the city resembles Bagdad after a US bombing attack. The Wall Street devastated city, has debts totaling $20 billion, as the big three auto companies relocate overseas and in non-union states and bankers “restructure” the economy, breaking unions, lowering wages , reneging on pensions and ruling by administrative decree.”~

        welcome to Amurka

  4. My Quote for the day:
    “The GOP has come to stand for gridlock, obstruction and partisanship. If doctors told Sen. McConnell he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it.” – Allison Lundergan Grimes (from a thread at C&L)

  5. Great Post Wayne!!
    When faced with a conflict, liberals are more likely than conservatives to alter their habitual response when cues indicate it is necessary.

    Conservatives are loathe to ever admit they have ener been wrong, so why would they ever want to change? They filter evidence through their biblical sieve and out the other side comes exactly what matches their vision, nothing else.

    • The conservative’s lack of adaptive ability makes them an evolutionary curiosity. The most adaptive species are the ones that will survive.

  6. It’d be a lot quicker if the media would just name the women who haven’t been fondled/groped/propositioned by San Diego Mayor Filner.

  7. The tea party candidate who plans to face off against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary next spring challenged the senior senator to “be a man” and run on his record over the weekend.

    Silly Matt Bevin, How can a creature with no chin, spine or ethical stripe even try to ‘be a man’.

  8. You may not like Tina Brown, but you certainly can’t stand Howard Kurtz.

    Kurtz weighed in on the Newsweek sale, writing, “Tina tried hard to save Newsweek, which was probably impossible, but this captures the chaos, waste and dysfunction.” Brown burned him:

  9. “It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.” —Baha’u’llah

  10. World’s first lab-grown burger to be cooked

    Researchers say technology could be a sustainable way of meeting growing demand for meat.

    A group of scientists from the Netherlands will introduce the world’s first in-vitro burger made in a laboratory.

    The process involves taking the stem cells from cows and growing them in petri dishes until they have formed thousands of muscle fibres.

    Supporters of the laboratory burgers and animal activists say that it will reduce the need for factory farming.

    Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba reports from London.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/08/2013853374929969.html

  11. Fantastic, thought provoking post, Wayne. In response to your questions at the end, I think that both Liberals and Conservatives will continue to exist and that one will not evolve while the other becomes extinct. As someone that believes in the ‘Yin and Yang’ of all things, we need both in order to maintain balance throughout the universe. There are positives and negatives in both sides. Problems arise when life and decision making are out of balance. This happens when either side leans too far to the right or too far to the left. Keeping a balance is the challenge.

  12. Wayne, I’m sorry to be a dick but –more– is your friend. I think that, in addition to cleaning up the page a bit, it increases hits every time someone clicks on it. Zooey will be happy to correct me, but I remember this as being the standard at The Zoo for any post over a couple of grafs. I will now take my pedantry and toddle off.

  13. Hmm. I’ve always thought (based on having known my cousin for seventy-plus years) that what separates Liberals from Conservatives is that the latter suffer from multiple varieties of mental retardation.

    Thanks for the confirmation!

  14. I don’t think Ed Schultz can do his Sunday show and get back to do his radio show on Monday. Seems like last Monday was a ‘Best of Ed’ also.

    • Maybe this is the reason:

      Monday, August 05, 2013

      Ed is on vacation. Please enjoy The Best of The Ed Schultz Show. Mike Papantonio and Mike Rogers will be filling in the rest of this week, and Ed is back on Monday, well-rested and ready to let ‘er rip.

      He took the entire week off after he worked the Essence Festival in New Orleans. That wasn’t very long ago.

    • What more could anyone ever expect from the severely mentally disadvantaged, e.g. “conservatives” or “wingnuts” . . . whatever, take your pick. IF you hate everyone who ain’t ‘like you,’ then anyone who is black, Hispanic, Asian, Polynesian, Apache, Cherokee (et al.) . . . and is NOT STUPID!!! . . . then you’ll hate everyone who is either black, Hispanic, Asian, Polynesian, Apache, Cherokee . . . and is not a STUPID shit, with zero comprehension of any other reality than is listed above. Like YOU.

      GOP defined. Q.E.D.

      • I have no idea.
        I bought some from the supermarket a few years ago and thy were not of regular size.
        I planted the tops and have been growing cuttings off of them.
        So far they have tasted like pineapple flavored sugar.

  15. Jeff Bezos has bought the Washington Post. Some of the comments attached to the WaPo article are a scream with trolls who seriously believe the paper is “communist.” No, really. So Bezos is a secret commie, apparently.

    I wish I could believe the WaPo would once again become a serious news organization, but it’s doubtful.

    Journalism plays a critical role in a free society, and The Washington Post — as the hometown paper of the capital city of the United States — is especially important. I would highlight two kinds of courage the Grahams have shown as owners that I hope to channel. The first is the courage to say wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake. The second is the courage to say follow the story, no matter the cost. While I hope no one ever threatens to put one of my body parts through a wringer, if they do, thanks to Mrs. Graham’s example, I’ll be ready.

  16. Last Thursday I was trying to purchase recovery software for my previous computer. When I pushed the button to check out I got an “Oops” message to go back and check my entries when, after more than several tries my cell phone rang. Visa was calling to ask if I was really buying 20 copies of the same software! 😯 I called the company and selected the option to have a representative call me back. Meanwhile I contacted my bank and had any transactions with that company canceled. When I received a call back several hours later I was informed that a 24 hour wait was necessary to order by phone. I requested they call me the next day, when I could order the software. Friday at 2 PM they called back and I made the purchase.

    Later Friday night there was a knock at the door. A friend had come by because his call to me went directly to voicemail. I tried to call my friend’s phone and I got a “called failed” message. Today I spent about 3 hours using Peckerhead Pete’s phone trying to solve my problem. After entering many many codes and conversing with the representative, who was in the Philippines, I was informed that they will send me a new phone. When I was asked how long I have had this phone I said I didn’t know but I’m on my 3rd computer since I’ve had the phone.

    I also ordered a memory upgrade for the one I’m using now. Thus sometime soon I’ll probably receive the software, chip set and phone on the same day and totally fudge-up my connections with the world. Tonight is a rum and coke night. 🙂

      • Slightly off topic but I would like to thank pachy for posting a comment long enough to get those damn dancing guys out of my screen shot! I was scrolled all the way to the bottom and they were still visible.

        Oooh, if I ever get my hands on the person who posted that, why, I’ll probably forget what I was mad about and do something else instead. So let that be a warning! 😆

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