8 votes

Liberals and Conservatives React in Wildly Different Ways to Repulsive Pictures

23 comments

  1. [12]
    patience_limited Link
    I call bullshit. Biological essentialism about any complex cognitive process usually falls to provide adequate explanatory power. Also, the basic political tenets of "liberalism" and...

    I call bullshit.

    Biological essentialism about any complex cognitive process usually falls to provide adequate explanatory power. Also, the basic political tenets of "liberalism" and "conservatism" keep getting redefined constantly. The Atlantic article doesn't do a good job of explaining where the writer or researchers set the goalposts for each label.

    More importantly, the facts (which were reported well-buried in the second section) belie the declarative headline:

    According to a 2013 meta-analysis of 24 studies—pretty much all the scientific literature on the topic at that time—the association between a conservative ethos and sensitivity to disgust is modest: Disgust sensitivity explains 4 to 13 percent of the variation in a population’s ideology.

    Without more information on categorization, methodology and sample size, that's hard to distinguish from noise.

    At least this research paper, which addresses the general spectrum from psychopathic selfishness to angelic altruism (and might thus be related to conservative vs. liberal politics), has the honesty to explain as follows:

    Instead of rigid assignment of human nature as being “universally selfish” or “universally good,” both characterizations are partial truths based on the segments of the selfish–selfless spectrum being examined. In addition, individuals and populations can shift in the behavioral spectrum in response to cognitive therapy and social and cultural experience, and approaches such as mindfulness training for introspection and reward-activating compassion are entering the mainstream of clinical care for managing pain, depression, and stress.

    10 votes
    1. [6]
      nic Link Parent
      It would be interesting to see the study replicated, especially this bit... ..which seems inconsistent with the 4-13% variation noted using non-mri studies.

      It would be interesting to see the study replicated, especially this bit...

      "Montague could predict with more than 95 percent accuracy whether they were liberal or conservative"

      ..which seems inconsistent with the 4-13% variation noted using non-mri studies.

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
        Okay. :) Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting The yuck factor: The surprising power of disgust Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations...

        It would be interesting to see the study replicated

        Okay. :)

        The results are consistent: higher disgust sensitivity is correlated with more conservative political opinions.

        (Tagging @patience_limited.)

        1 vote
        1. [4]
          patience_limited Link Parent
          Actually, since I can't get to the paywalled SAGE link, there's nothing in these articles which discusses the strength or explanatory power of the association between disgust and conservative...

          Actually, since I can't get to the paywalled SAGE link, there's nothing in these articles which discusses the strength or explanatory power of the association between disgust and conservative political opinions.

          There's a correlation between a sense of disgust and temporary adoption of "conservative" positions, but this mentioned report in the New Scientist article is telling about the workings:

          While the whiff did not influence people’s feelings towards many social groups, one effect was stark: those in the smelly room, on average, felt less warmth towards homosexual men compared to participants in a non-smelly room. The effect was of equal strength among political liberals and conservatives (Emotion, vol 12, p 23). This finding is consistent with previous studies showing that a stronger susceptibility to disgust is linked with disapproval of gay people.

          Emphasis mine.

          If modern "conservative" politics are framed around rejecting specific groups of people towards whom feelings of disgust have been created, then you've simply overfitted the model for the research.

          4 votes
          1. [3]
            Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
            My reading of various articles over the years about this phenomenon is as follows: When your "disgust" response is activated, your tendency toward so-called conservative opinions is increased, no...

            My reading of various articles over the years about this phenomenon is as follows:


            When your "disgust" response is activated, your tendency toward so-called conservative opinions is increased, no matter what your usual politics might be. You associate the bad feeling of disgust with whatever social topic is being presented to you, and you dislike the social topic by association.

            Conservative people are people who are neurologically wired to feel disgust more strongly, and more often. They're always metaphorically smelling farts, so they're always espousing conservative opinions.

            Disgust is a survival trait. It keeps us away from bad things like decayed food and bad water and disease. But, if it's over-active, it can keep someone away from things which might not actually be bad.


            In my own personal observation, a lot of anti-gay people's response to homosexual people boils down to the so-called "yuck factor". When you push and push and push past the logic and the science and the religion and all the other rationalisations that they use to argue against homosexuality, and dig down deep into "But why?"... they'll end up saying "It's yucky. That's why." Deep down, a lot of homophobia is rooted in the emotional response that gay sex is yucky - or, in other words, that it's disgusting.

            Of course that's only one of many social issues, but it's another supporting correlation for me of this theory connecting disgust to conservatism.

            1 vote
            1. [2]
              patience_limited Link Parent
              Conservatism is not simply a constellation of beliefs and behaviors produced by disgust. There are political factions within conservatism which don't particularly care one way or the other about...

              Conservatism is not simply a constellation of beliefs and behaviors produced by disgust. There are political factions within conservatism which don't particularly care one way or the other about gay sex or other disgust-inducers; they're in it for the money. The association of conservatism and disgust is at least partly the product of deliberate marketing to the disgust-sensitive.

              Thus, if people who adhere to either conservative or liberal positions can be induced to act more like labelled conservatives through disgust, that says more about a set of responses to a stressor than about politics. The same thing can be done through evoking fear.

              Even the disgust-sensitive aren't uniformly disgusted by the same things. It took widespread information about the germ theory of disease to evoke disgust at sharing a visibly clean public toilet seat, for example. There are other learned components to disgust - taboos (e.g. not every human society rejects cannibalism or finds gay sex disgusting), ethics (e.g. disgust at eating animal flesh produced through conditions of suffering), and associations created through trauma.

              So even in the presence of an association between an evoked disgust response and an asserted conservative position, it's hard to say that this is a universal and uniform relationship.

              2 votes
              1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
                Exactly. As you may know, there have been studies done which show that people who are more fearful will espouse more conservative political opinions. While there may not be a universal and uniform...

                The same thing can be done through evoking fear.

                Exactly. As you may know, there have been studies done which show that people who are more fearful will espouse more conservative political opinions.

                While there may not be a universal and uniform relationship between our base emotions and our politics, we also can't deny that there is at least some connection between how people subjectively experience the world and their opinions about various social topics. Humans might be more than the sum of our parts, but our parts still contribute something to who we are. We might be thinking animals, but we are still animals.

                1 vote
    2. [2]
      Amarok Link Parent
      I'l agree that conservative vs liberal is a stupid classification. A more valuable one would be based on damage to the mind. People who have suffered trauma in their lives, particularly as...

      I'l agree that conservative vs liberal is a stupid classification.

      A more valuable one would be based on damage to the mind. People who have suffered trauma in their lives, particularly as children, tend to have far stronger negative reactions to hosts of stimuli, prioritizing fear and anger in their responses, which of course shuts down most rational thought. I suspect this 'liberal' vs 'conservative' difference we see has far less to do with politics and far more to do with one's personal life experiences. Those experiences may bias one towards certain kinds of politics.

      2 votes
      1. patience_limited Link Parent
        My experience is that "liberal" and "conservative" people don't cut neatly into fearful/selfish and open/altruistic tribes. The subdivisions of religious conservatives/liberals, and economic...

        My experience is that "liberal" and "conservative" people don't cut neatly into fearful/selfish and open/altruistic tribes. The subdivisions of religious conservatives/liberals, and economic conservatives/liberals, are meaningful, and seem to have different cognitive roots. Then you layer in the experiential factors that cause trust/distrust...

        The study I linked does discuss different areas of brain activation in self-described conservatives and liberals, but it suggests more about learned cognitive processing methods (fast-categorizing with learned stereotypes and emotional reactions, or slow-thinking about abstractions) than any hard-coded bias.

        Familial studies are heavily confounded as well. Short of separated twin studies where they're placed in genuinely dissimilar families, you can't say much about genetic influences on political affiliation.

        1 vote
    3. [3]
      Pilgrim Link Parent
      I think you're expecting a bit much from a magazine article. I think it's especially unfair to compare the "honesty" of the article to a research paper. They are different things intended for...

      I think you're expecting a bit much from a magazine article. I think it's especially unfair to compare the "honesty" of the article to a research paper. They are different things intended for different audiences. That said, I'd also like to read the actual research paper for this study that I'm sure exists somewhere.

      1. [2]
        patience_limited Link Parent
        Let me point you to the work of Dr. Ben Goldacre, who did a respectable job of explaining why it's not too much to expect better journalism about science and medicine. It's reasonable to expect...

        Let me point you to the work of Dr. Ben Goldacre, who did a respectable job of explaining why it's not too much to expect better journalism about science and medicine.

        It's reasonable to expect that popular journalism about research findings would accurately reflect those findings in laypersons' language, without distorting it to score audience or political points.

        It's reasonable to expect that a sample population used to draw conclusions about the general public, is representative.

        It's reasonable to expect that the journalist writing the story understands statistics well enough to question whether the reported research findings are significant.

        1 vote
        1. Pilgrim Link Parent
          I've worked as a journalist. It's not impossible, but the restraints of time and resources in most newsrooms aren't going to be conducive for it. Better resourced outfits obviously produce better...

          I've worked as a journalist. It's not impossible, but the restraints of time and resources in most newsrooms aren't going to be conducive for it. Better resourced outfits obviously produce better work in that regard. That's assuming good intent. Worst case scenario, you have a place that doesn't much care and is going for click bait.

          I'd look to well resourced outfits, especially those that focus on science, for the best science reporting.

          All of that said, comparing research papers and magazine articles is never going to be a fair comparison in terms of sourcing. They're different things.

          1 vote
  2. [4]
    mb3077 Link
    I am extremely skeptical about this. The article fails to provide citations. Many of the studies mentioned are remained nameless, and their specifications are not provided. A lot of potentially...

    I am extremely skeptical about this.

    1. The article fails to provide citations. Many of the studies mentioned are remained nameless, and their specifications are not provided. A lot of potentially important information is left out.
    2. The first major study mentioned in the article only had 83 subjects, their geographical diversity is not mentioned. More importantly the results of this study were never replicated.
    3. All subsequent related studies were done using standardized questionnaires.
    4. @patience_limited mentions that the article contradicts its own title

    I'm not ruling this out as bs, but I request from either the OP or @deimos to alter the title to something more accurate.

    5 votes
    1. [3]
      nic Link Parent
      @deimos, sorry to be a pain in the ass, but I dont know how to edit a title. With hindsight, I think the original article title would be better... "Liberals and Conservatives React in Wildly...

      @deimos, sorry to be a pain in the ass, but I dont know how to edit a title.

      With hindsight, I think the original article title would be better... "Liberals and Conservatives React in Wildly Different Ways to Repulsive Pictures"

      1 vote
      1. Pilgrim Link Parent
        I believe only a mod can do that. I generally try to use the article's title. I almost posted this one myself actually. Very interesting read :)

        I believe only a mod can do that. I generally try to use the article's title. I almost posted this one myself actually. Very interesting read :)

        1 vote
  3. [3]
    Akir Link
    The analysis at the end of this article is really great. I particularly liked this bit:

    The analysis at the end of this article is really great. I particularly liked this bit:

    No doubt your own political allegiances will heavily influence what you extract from the bulk of this research. If you’re liberal, you may be thinking, So this explains some of the other side’s nativism and hostility to immigration. But it’s just as easy to flip the science on its head and conclude, as conservatives might, that the left is composed of clueless naïfs whose rosy-eyed optimism about human nature—and obliviousness to various dangers—will only lead to trouble.

    3 votes
    1. [2]
      nic Link Parent
      We took this test. https://chartsme.com/ My son came up as 80% republican, my wife came up as liberal. My wife, after a seconds consideration, relished in the ability to compare conservatives to...

      We took this test.

      https://chartsme.com/

      My son came up as 80% republican, my wife came up as liberal.

      My wife, after a seconds consideration, relished in the ability to compare conservatives to seven year olds.

      5 votes
      1. patience_limited (edited ) Link Parent
        I went most of the way through to look at the framing of the questions, and the ability of the test to measure susceptibility to "disgust" is questionable. It's one thing to use photographs,...

        I went most of the way through to look at the framing of the questions, and the ability of the test to measure susceptibility to "disgust" is questionable. It's one thing to use photographs, another to use context-free language-based descriptions of things that are hypothetically disgusting or strange.

        For example, "How would you feel about touching a dead body?" I was just fine about that in a gross anatomy class, but would likely run screaming from a random corpse in my path.

        I didn't go all the way through to see how the categorization was reported, or whether there was any measure of survey validity, like asking for your self-identified political orientation.

        3 votes
  4. [2]
    patience_limited Link
    One final note from me on all of this: My own political views would tend to bias me towards believing that there's something irremediably defective about those who hold certain viewpoints inside...

    One final note from me on all of this:

    My own political views would tend to bias me towards believing that there's something irremediably defective about those who hold certain viewpoints inside the conservative category.

    I have a deep suspicion of my own motivated reasoning in this regard, and suggest others adopt the same scrutiny of their responses to stories like this.

    Whether or not there's evidence for biology, psychological trauma, bad religion, memetics, or other causative factors in adopting a conservative stance, the functional and honest approach to persuasion begins with the assumption that people arrive at their political positions in good faith, based on their moral precepts, knowledge, and experience, not from biological determinants, diseased mentation, or cognitive inferiority.

    1 vote
    1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
      Why not turn it around and assume there's something defective about those who hold certain viewpoints inside the progressive category? Rather than saying conservatives have an over-developed...

      My own political views would tend to bias me towards believing that there's something irremediably defective about those who hold certain viewpoints inside the conservative category.

      Why not turn it around and assume there's something defective about those who hold certain viewpoints inside the progressive category? Rather than saying conservatives have an over-developed disgust response, why not say that progressive have an under-developed disgust response? It's not working well enough to keep them away from disgusting things.

  5. [2]
    nic Link

    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.

    1 vote
    1. vektor Link Parent
      Causal link needed. Hypothesis 0: Political Opinion -> Political Media -> Differing kinds of images used for repulsive value -> Different reactions ingrained Hypothesis 1: Openness leads to both...

      Causal link needed.

      Hypothesis 0: Political Opinion -> Political Media -> Differing kinds of images used for repulsive value -> Different reactions ingrained

      Hypothesis 1:
      Openness leads to both "Politically Liberal" and "Less easily/different repulsion reactions"

      Both seem plausible, and there's a few more easily imaginable. I'd be curious..

      2 votes