The scientific “studies” purporting to prove that conservatives and liberals have different biological responses strike me as so dumb. Usually, they conclude that conservatives are angry/scared/selfish and liberals are hopeful/kind/altruistic–you know, that liberalism represents the next step in evolutionary advancement of the species toward perfection. (Yes, that is hyperbole for you nit pickers out there. It is a technique to illustrate a perspective through the use of exaggeration.)
Here’s a description of the latest such nonsense based on eye movement tests of subjects reacting to pleasant or unpleasant images. From “Biological Politics: Out-of-Touch Liberals and Fear-Mongering Conservatives: in Science 2.0:
Conservatives reacted more strongly to unpleasant images, they fixated on those more quickly and looked longer, while liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at pleasant images. Conservatives reacted more to a crashed car while progressives reacted more to a bunny rabbit. Neither is bad, obviously, but certainly different.”It’s been said that conservatives and liberals don’t see things in the same way,” said Mike Dodd, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “These findings make that clear – quite literally.”
Or as Irving Kristol once said, “A conservative is a liberal mugged by reality.”
What can we supposedly learn from these eye studies?
The conclusions the researchers draw are not as grounded; rather than showing that tolerances are why people pick parties, they try to say evolution is at the root, claiming political leanings are at least partial products of our biology, which goes to show you that political scientists and psychologists who don’t understand biology should not invoke it, at least as cause and effect. But the new study’s use of cognitive data regarding both positive and negative imagery adds to the understanding of how liberals and conservatives see and experience the world and that has value, even if the more broad conclusions are not evidence-based.
Except it’s nonsense regardless of what the eye tests showed.
Consider: I think it is fair to say that liberals tend to be the most enthusiastic for legalizing assisted suicide. Why? Fear and loathing of suffering, while the usually more conservative opponents tend to see the hope for healing (as opposed to cure) in every situation. Animal rights supporters also tend to be the most zealous leftists. Why? Ditto. Indeed, the ideology claims that the ability to suffer is what grounds the existence of rights (“painience”). So too global warming alarmists who scream about the PLANET DYING and see in every weather anomaly proof of nature’s Apocalypse! Indeed, liberals always seem the angrier to me, but perhaps that is just my eyes moving to unpleasant images.
Conservatives and liberals do perceive things differently, obviously, which is why they disagree. But that is because we are human and we react subjectively to our experiences. Of course, those disagreements are part of what makes us exceptional. There are no liberals and conservatives among fauna. Having different opinions about right and wrong and abstract concepts such as ethical values is a uniquely human phenomenon.