Monday, June 06, 2016

Study: Is your political ideology in your head?

Public Release: 31-Mar-2016
Study: Is your political ideology in your head?
The differences between conservatives and liberals may be psychologically fundamental
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Conservatives and liberals know there is a chasm between their policy and social ideals. But a new study shows that their differences may be psychologically fundamental.

The research, led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Mark Mills, revealed that negativity bias -- where greater weight in our cognitive processes is given to negative information over positive or neutral information -- is stronger in political conservatives and that the negativity bias transfers to how well they remember stimuli.

In other words, conservatives in the study were more likely to remember things that evoked negative emotions -- images of war, snakes, dead animals -- than their more liberal counterparts.


Scientists hypothesized that they would see some difference in memory of positive and negative imagery between conservatives and liberals, but were surprised at the pronounced difference. The most conservative participants remembered about 91 percent of negative images compared with 80 percent of positive ones. The most liberal participants, in contrast, remembered about 84 percent of negative images compared with 86 percent of positive ones.


Forty-five percent of variance between subjects was accounted for by political ideology, he said.

"It quantifies the size of the correlation between negativity bias and political ideology," Mills said. "Out of all the possible reasons in the entire world for why individuals would differ in how well they remember positive and negative images, political ideology alone can account for about half of these reasons."

Despite its name, however, negativity bias isn't a bad thing -- and everyone has it, the researchers said.

"If you ignore a positive stimulus in your environment, you might miss lunch," co-author Kevin Smith, a UNL professor of political science, said. "If you ignore a negative stimulus in your environment, you might be lunch, so there is good reason for why we have a negativity bias."


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