I. “My Jaw Dropped” why do we have the political opinions we have? Why do we embrace one outlook toward the world and not another? How and why do our stances change? The answers to questions such as these are of course complex. Most people aren’t reading policy memos to inform every decision. Differences of opinion are shaped by contrasting life experiences: where you live; how you were raised; whether you’re rich or poor, young or old. Emotion comes into the picture, and emotion has a biological basis, at least in part. All of this and more combines into a stew without a fixed recipe, even if many of the ingredients are known.
On rare occasions, we learn of a new one—a key factor that seems to have been overlooked. To a surprising degree, a recent strand of experimental psychology suggests, our political beliefs may have something to do with a specific aspect of our biological makeup: our propensity to feel physical disgust.
During a conversation I had with a CM I used an article to better explain what a conservative is through scientific studies. So I located an article from The Atlantic, it told the story of some political scientist who made a request to a neuroscientist who headed the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech. They had a radical idea that would throw many scientist in denial and only the results would convince them of what they were seeing.
The radical theory that these political scientist had was political orientation might be partly inherited, and might be revealed by our physiological reactivity to threats.
If you choose not to read the article that is fine, it is long. Here is a section that you may find interesting.
Montague initially laughed at the idea—for one thing, MRI research requires considerable time and resources—but the team returned with studies to argue their case, and eventually he signed on. When the data began rolling in, any skepticism about the project quickly dissolved. The subjects, 83 in total, were first shown a randomized mixture of neutral and emotionally evocative pictures—this second category contained both positive and negative images—while undergoing brain scans. Then they filled out a questionnaire seeking their views on hot-button political and social issues, in order to classify their general outlook on a spectrum from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. As Montague mapped the neuroimaging data against ideology, he recalls, “my jaw dropped.” The brains of liberals and conservatives reacted in wildly different ways to repulsive pictures: Both groups reacted, but different brain networks were stimulated. Just by looking at the subjects’ neural responses, in fact, Montague could predict with more than 95 percent accuracy whether they were liberal or conservative.
The subjects in the trial were also shown violent imagery (men pointing revolvers directly at the camera, battle scenes, car wrecks) and pleasant pictures (smiling babies, beautiful sunsets, cute bunnies). But it was only the reaction to repulsive things that correlated with ideology. “I was completely flabbergasted by the predictability of the results,” Montague says.
His collaborators—John Hibbing and Kevin Smith at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and John Alford at Rice University, in Houston—were just as surprised, though less by the broad conclusion than by the specificity of the findings and the startling degree of predictability. Their own earlier research had already yielded a suggestive finding, indicating that conservatives tend to have more pronounced bodily responses than liberals when shown stomach-churning imagery. However, the investigators had expected that brain reactions to violent imagery would also be predictive of ideology. Compared with liberals, they’d previously found, conservatives generally pay more attention—and react more strongly—to a broad array of threats. For example, they have a more pronounced startle response to loud noises, and they gaze longer at photos of people displaying angry expressions. And yet even in this research, Hibbing says, “we almost always get clearer results with stimuli that are disgusting than with those that suggest a threat from humans, animals, or violent events. We have an ongoing discussion in our lab about whether this is because disgust is simply a more powerful and more politically relevant emotion or because it is an emotion that is easier to evoke with still images in a lab setting.”
This article goes on to detail many more fascination areas of the study including religion, LGBT, wealth, etc. For those details you will need to click on the link above and read. The answers you are looking for may not be what you are expecting.
There are two questions I have for you:
First, do you believe that these type of studies are being done to purposely manipulate people for political purposes and have you seen such things happen recently?
Second, where do you think you will find yourself on the side of the Yuck Factor?