Are conservatives more afraid of threats than liberals? Political psychologists have long found evidence that people on the right are more sensitive to scary stuff, on average, than people on the left, a basic psychological difference thought to drive some political disagreements between the two groups.
But new research suggests that's overly simplistic.
In a new international study, conservatives and liberals both responded to threats but they responded more strongly to different kinds of threats. And to make matters more complex, those responses don't always map nicely onto the political divide, or stay consistent from nation to nation.
Related: Why did the Democratic and Republican parties switch platforms?
"This link between threat and conservative beliefs, or conservative ideology, is just not simple," said study leader Mark Brandt, a psychology professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. "It depends on a lot of different things. It depends on the type of threats that we study; it depends on how we measure political beliefs and what kind of political beliefs that we measure; and it depends on the precise country that we're looking at."
Let's rewind to 2012, well before the 2016 election and the dramatic political fallout that's happened since. That year, psychologists reported that conservatives responded more strongly to scary images than liberals did on a basic biological level: They literally started sweating more. This tracked with earlier research suggesting that conservatives were more prone to disgust, on average, than liberals. Multiple studies reached similar conclusions.
It made for a neat story. People physiologically prone to fear and disgust would pay more attention to threats and thus turn to a conservative political ideology that promises safety and the status quo. But there was a lingering problem. Seventy-five percent of the research cited on the topic in one influential 2003 meta-analysis was done in the United States, and only 4% was conducted outside of Western democracies. Another problem? The definition of "threat" in most studies on the topic was usually narrow, focused on threats of violence or terrorism. Political persuasion was often defined narrowly too, without accounting for differences between social ideology and economic ideology.
"Many of the studies cited in support of this conclusion use threat measures or manipulations that exclusively tap threats emphasized by conservative elites," said Ariel Malka, a political psychologist at Yeshiva University who was not involved in the new study, referring to politicians and media figures.
This is a problem because the link between threats and politics can run both ways. For example, a recent POLITICO poll found that 70% of Republicans thought the 2020 election was marred by fraud, compared with only 10% of Democrats. Before the election, only 35% of Republicans thought the election would be fraudulent, and 52% of Democrats did. The post-election shift makes it pretty clear that people's fears of fraud are driven by party affiliation and messaging from party elites, not the other way around. If studies on threats focus on fears usually emphasized by conservatives, they're likely to find a connection between threat and conservatism.
Brandt and his colleagues wanted to broaden the scope. They turned to a dataset called the World Values Survey, which asked people from 56 different countries and territories about their perceptions of six different categories of threats, including war, violence, police violence, economics, poverty and government surveillance. Economic threats were broad-based worries about the job market and availability of education; poverty threats were more personal concerns about being able to put food on the table or pay for medical care. The survey also captured people's political beliefs in nuanced ways, ranging from whether they called themselves conservative or liberal to their individual opinions on immigration, government ownership of industry and abortion. Data on 60,378 participants was collected between 2010 and 2014.
The results were messy.
Economic fears were slightly associated with some left-wing beliefs, but not all. For example, a fear of personal poverty was linked with more acceptance of government ownership of industry, but fears about the wider economy weren't. The fear of war or terrorism was sometimes associated with right-wing beliefs, but reporting worries about violence within one's neighborhood was associated with left-wing beliefs, as was fear of police violence.
Related: How to actually stop police brutality, according to science
And there were many unexpected findings. The threat of war or terrorism was linked to left-wing beliefs on government ownership, for example, and economic worries were linked to left-wing beliefs on social issues. The threat of personal poverty was associated with right-wing views on social issues and on protectionist job policies that would reserve the highest-paid jobs for men and non-immigrants. What was clear was that threats and right-wing beliefs weren't married. There were six statistically significant associations between certain threats and conservative beliefs, nine associations between other threats and liberal beliefs, and 15 potential relationships between threat and belief that didn't turn out to correlate at all.
Making matters more complicated, the relationships between ideology and threats weren't consistent from nation to nation. For example a fear of war or terrorism was associated with left-wing beliefs in Kazakhstan just as strongly as a fear of war or terrorism was associated with right-wing beliefs in the United States. Likewise, Brandt told Live Science, experiencing the threat of poverty leads to left-wing beliefs in the U.S., but in Pakistan and Egypt, the threat of poverty is linked to right-wing belief.
If you look only at the United States, the researchers report, it's true that right-wing beliefs and a fear of war or terrorism go hand-in-hand. But expanding to other threats shows an inconsistent mix of associations. In other words, even in the U.S., conservatism and a physical sensitivity to threats aren't clearly linked.
It's not clear from the study which comes first, the political belief or the focus on a threat. It's possible that experiencing a particular threat moves people to adopt a certain political belief, but it's also possible, as with voter fraud in the 2020 election, that people adopt a political identity first and focus on specific threats as a result.
The new work is likely to be influential, said Bert Bakker, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam who studies the relationship of personality and political ideology. Bakker was not involved in the current study, but his work has shown that the difference in disgust between conservatives and liberals may also be overstated.
"I am less certain about what we know about this now than I was a couple years ago," Bakker told Live Science.
It's still possible that people gravitate toward political beliefs for deep-seated psychological reasons, Brandt said.
"It's definitely plausible that people experience some threat or some event and then adopt this attitude," he said. "But what 'this attitude' is and the best one to address that threat might be different depending on the particular context."
There may also be other psychological reasons to associate with a political group, Malka noted. People have a social need to fit in, and may adopt attitudes that help them do so. Future research should focus more on how pre-existing political affiliation leads people to focus on different threats, he told Live Science.
Originally published on Live Science.
See the original post here:
- Two groups one conservative, the other liberal walked into a Zoom class - Press Herald - May 16th, 2021
- Liz Cheneys Liberal Critics Are Missing the Point - New York Magazine - May 16th, 2021
- Curley: Liberals must rewire their brains away from knee-jerk Trump hate - Boston Herald - May 16th, 2021
- How The Politics Of White Liberals And White Conservatives Are Shaped By Whiteness - FiveThirtyEight - May 16th, 2021
- Liberal. Activist. Girl boss. The complicated nuances of popular labels that often go unpacked The Bowdoin Orient - The Bowdoin Orient - May 16th, 2021
- Evolving past performative politics on a liberal campus - Dailyuw - May 16th, 2021
- Leavening Liberalism | RR Reno - First Things - May 16th, 2021
- Ritesh Jha aka Liberal Doge: The man behind the livestream spewing hate against Pakistani women - Newslaundry - May 16th, 2021
- The rise of Political Sufism poses a threat to liberal politics in both India and Pakistan - Scroll.in - May 16th, 2021
- Ross: Another outbreak of liberal, conservative agreement on the vaccine - MyNorthwest.com - May 16th, 2021
- Tasmanian Liberals have won majority government, ABC's Antony Green says - ABC News - May 16th, 2021
- Letter: Trump should be looking good to even liberal professors - Daily Record-News - May 16th, 2021
- Greg Gutfeld: Progress, stability, and success is just one liberal away from disaster - Fox News - May 16th, 2021
- Pike Liberal Arts and Autauga Academy capture AISA baseball titles, Macon East softball reaches final - Montgomery Advertiser - May 16th, 2021
- Tasmanian Greens and independents want external probe into allegations against Liberal candidate for Braddon, Adam Brooks - ABC News - May 16th, 2021
- What I don't see: How liberal silence for Jewish lives shows progressive limits - The Times of Israel - May 16th, 2021
- Quebec Ink: With Bill C-10, Quebec sets the Liberal agenda on Big Tech - The Logic - May 16th, 2021
- Liberals believe early election more likely after well-received federal budget - Sydney Morning Herald - May 16th, 2021
- Liberal bill on organ donation would create system of presumed consent - CBC.ca - May 16th, 2021
- The Liberal Party suspends Glasgow candidate Derek Jackson 'with immediate effect' after Nazi-style salute and star of David wearing at Glasgow count... - May 9th, 2021
- Liberal | Definition of Liberal at Dictionary.com - May 9th, 2021
- Interesting New Pew Study; White Liberals More Likely To Have Mental Problems - wbckfm.com - May 9th, 2021
- Despite recent wins, hypocrisy will rob liberals of a big victory over Modi - Firstpost - May 9th, 2021
- Joe Oliver: Will Liberal failures and lapses never end? - Financial Post - May 9th, 2021
- Megyn Kelly Irked By Liberal Action Figures: UWS Week In Review - Patch.com - May 9th, 2021
- Letter to the editor: Hypocrisy on full display by liberal Democrats - Wooster Daily Record - May 9th, 2021
- Should Canadians get vaccinated abroad? Liberals, Tories skirt the issue but health experts encourage it - CBC.ca - May 9th, 2021
- Liberal candidate Simon Behrakis forced to apologise over failing to 'show respect' - ABC News - May 9th, 2021
- Erin O'Toole: The Liberals' internet regulation bill opens the door to a massive abuse of power - National Post - May 9th, 2021
- Liberal Party: behaviour of candidate treated as hate incident - Glasgow Times - May 9th, 2021
- Families call LIberal gun control bill insult to all victims of gun violence - CP24 Toronto's Breaking News - May 9th, 2021
- Police treating Liberal Party candidate's interaction with Humza Yousaf as hate incident - The National - May 9th, 2021
- Liberal heavyweight asked to review Opposition Leaders office - The Age - May 9th, 2021
- Meghan McCain Slams Mask-Wearing Liberals On 'The View,' Plans to Have "Hot Vaxx Spring" - Decider - May 9th, 2021
- Peter Gutwein describes allegations against Liberal candidate Adam Brooks as 'differing points of view' - ABC News - May 9th, 2021
- Patently fair - The Indian Express - May 9th, 2021
- Scottish election 2021: Big re-election wins for Liberal Democrat MSPs shows just how popular they are Willie Rennie MSP - The Scotsman - May 9th, 2021
- Trudeau says Liberal budget is not a launch pad for a federal election - Yahoo Canada Finance - April 21st, 2021
- Some provinces not ready to embrace Liberal pledge to build a national child care system - CBC.ca - April 21st, 2021
- Rohail Hyatt issues one last clarification about what he means by 'liberal' - The Express Tribune - April 21st, 2021
- The State Of Liberal Arts Education In India - Forbes India - April 21st, 2021
- Liberals promise $30B over 5 years to create national child-care system - CBC.ca - April 21st, 2021
- Conservative MP says budget needs job creation, while former Liberal candidate pleased with document - battlefordsNOW - April 21st, 2021
- Freeland delivered an election budget, Liberal and Conservative MPs agree - CBC.ca - April 21st, 2021
- Former Liberal leader Andrew Peacock remembered as 'great Australian' with lasting legacy - ABC News - April 21st, 2021
- "This Is Just What Liberals Like To Do, Spend Money," Says Portage-Lisgar MP Of Federal Budget - PembinaValleyOnline.com - April 21st, 2021
- Hypocrisy of Liberals: They Outrage Over Election Campaigning, But Egged On Farm Protests - News18 - April 21st, 2021
- Libertarian vs. Liberal: Key Differences and Similarities - April 19th, 2021
- The Liberal Party is faking social media, so what will Facebook do? - Crikey - April 19th, 2021
- Conservative Vs. Liberal - 8 Key Differences - April 19th, 2021
- 5 things to watch for when the Liberals unveil the federal budget - CBC.ca - April 19th, 2021
- Its Not Just Young White Liberals Who Are Leaving Religion - FiveThirtyEight - April 19th, 2021
- Why Liberal arts is the degree young is India talking about - India Today - April 19th, 2021
- Remembering Andrew Peacock, a Liberal leader of intelligence, wit and charm - The Conversation AU - April 19th, 2021
- Liberal Party seeks to prevent The New Liberals from registering - Independent Australia - April 19th, 2021
- Why the WA Liberal Leader has hired a former disgraced government advisor - 6PR - April 19th, 2021
- Four Cartier watches? Bah! Libs hand out the equivalent of 90 a year to party hacks - Crikey - April 19th, 2021
- Dem Leaders Quick to Kill Liberal Dream of Packing the Court - Yahoo News - April 19th, 2021
- Liberals' bill on Indigenous rights getting pushback from Conservatives, First Nations critics - CBC.ca - April 19th, 2021
- Is the Supreme Court biased in favor of conservative Christianity? - Deseret News - April 19th, 2021
- Bringing in gender quotas in the Liberal party is not just right it's smart politics too - The Guardian - March 31st, 2021
- Conservative opinion columnist Rob Port to begin new livestream show with liberals - Grand Forks Herald - March 31st, 2021
- Germany's liberal FDP cool on three-way tie-up with Greens and SPD - Reuters - March 31st, 2021
- I would kill to be sexually harassed at the moment: Liberal Teena McQueen stuns colleagues in closed door meeting - Sydney Morning Herald - March 31st, 2021
- In Israel, Liberals Lost. The American Left Should Heed Their Lessons. - Foreign Policy - March 31st, 2021
- Working with the far-right? What a watershed Liberal Party vote means for Swedish politics - The Local Sweden - March 31st, 2021
- No space for liberal education - The Indian Express - March 31st, 2021
- Paynes silence speaks volumes about the Liberal Party - Sydney Morning Herald - March 31st, 2021
- Liberals amend Biodiversity Act in the face of industry, landowner criticism - CBC.ca - March 31st, 2021
- Liberal Democrats and Greens make election pact in a bid to defeat Conservatives in Guildford - Surrey Live - March 31st, 2021
- Roberts, Kavanaugh join with liberal justices to rule for woman shot by police while fleeing - ABA Journal - March 31st, 2021
- From Liberalism To Secularism, the Battle for Bengal Has Just Begun - The Wire - March 31st, 2021
- Ive really struggled: Federal Liberal MP reveals personal grief as motivation for changing course on quotas - Sydney Morning Herald - March 31st, 2021
- What is a liberal? What is a conservative? | Fox News - March 21st, 2021
- Whos who in the Liberals left, right and centre factions? - Sydney Morning Herald - March 21st, 2021
- Liberals want to blame rightwing 'misinformation' for our problems. Get real - The Guardian - March 21st, 2021
- New College ranked among the best value liberal arts colleges in the nation - Florida Politics - March 21st, 2021
- A Dutch election boosts both pro-EU liberals and the far right - The Economist - March 21st, 2021
- Boris Johnson was portrayed as a liberal, but his draconian government is wrecking Britain - The Independent - March 21st, 2021
- What to expect from the Liberals: an election, ASAP - Maclean's - March 21st, 2021