alien & sedition.
Monday, September 10, 2007
  The Cognitive Question

Do liberals and conservatives think differently? Yes, according to yet another study. I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing. I largely agree with Peter Suderman, who wonders: what's the point?
But other than giving the blogosphere a secondary story to argue about this week during breaks from analyzing the Patraeus Bush report, there doesn't seem to be too much point to these stories. Yes, conservatives and liberals are different, and some of their differences can ocassionally be shown in stastical form. How novel.
It is fun and somewhat instructive in a way. You read a paragraph like this:
Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.
...and you can't help but be amused at the article's very dry way of suggesting that conservatives ("structured and persistent") are stubborn and allergic to facts. The methodology is interesting:
Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.
The study's lead author attempts to soften the blow for conservatives by suggesting that their resistance to new information might be useful in certain situations that require focus. But when we're talking about who has his finger on the button, would you really ever want somebody who insists on seeing an M when they should be seeing a W?

But then again, so what? Should we insist on cognitive therapy for conservatives? Isn't that what politics is supposed to be? Of course the study's authors aren't claiming that conservatives are mentally ill, and rightly not. While we might like to tell ourselves that -- say after a bad election night -- it doesn't really lead us anywhere useful.

Labels: ,

No point? Famed social psychologist Bob Altemeyer would beg to differ . . .
Post a Comment

<< Home

"An obscure but fantastic blog." - Markus Kolic


Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

Email Me

Favorite Posts

I Was a Mole at the Conservative Summit, Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Wars of Perception, Part One
Wars of Perception, Part Two

Conservative Futures
Reading Conservative History


I also post at:

The Daily Gotham
The Albany Project
The Right's Field

Various favorites:

Ben Weyl
Chase Martyn
Cliff Schecter
Crooked Timber
D-Day (David Dayen)
Daily Kos
Ezra Klein
Five Before Chaos
Future Majority
Glenn Greenwald
The Group News Blog
Jon Swift
Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Matt Ortega
Matthew Yglesias
My Thinking Corner
New Democratic Majority
The November Blog
The Osterley Times
A Pedestrian View
The Poor Man Institute
Progressive Historians
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Talking Points Memo
Think Progress
The Third Estate
Undercover Blue
Vernon Lee
wAitiNG foR doROthY

Watching the right:

Orcinus (Dave Neiwert)
Rick Perlstein
Right Wing Watch
Sadly, No!

The conservative wonkosphere: (AEI)
The American Scene
Andrew Sullivan
Cato @ Liberty
Contentions (Commentary Magazine)
Crunchy Con (Rod Dreher)
Daniel Larison
Eye on '08 (Soren Dayton)
Jim Henley
Josh Trevino
Mainstream Libertarian
National Review Online
Patrick Ruffini
Ross Douthat
Ryan Sager
The Weekly Standard

New Yorkers:

Amazin' Avenue
Chris Owens
Z. Madison


December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2008

Powered by Blogger