Look: What your reaction to someone's eye movements says about your politics

Dec 09, 2010

It goes without saying that conservatives and liberals don't see the world in the same way. Now, research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that is exactly, and quite literally, the case.

In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals' and conservatives' reaction to "gaze cues" – a person's tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person's eye movements, even if it's irrelevant to their current task – and found big differences between the two groups.

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.

Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.

"We thought that political temperament may moderate the magnitude of gaze-cuing effects, but we did not expect conservatives to be completely immune to these cues," said Michael Dodd, a UNL assistant professor of psychology and the lead author of the study.

Liberals may have followed the "gaze cues," meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others, the study suggests.

"This study basically provides one more piece of evidence that liberals and conservatives perceive the world, and process information taken in from that world, in different ways," said Kevin Smith, UNL professor of political science and one of the study's authors.

"Understanding exactly why people have such different political perspectives and where those differences come from may help us better understand the roots of a lot of political conflict."

The study involved 72 people who sat in front of a white computer screen and were told to fixate on a small black cross in its center. The cross then disappeared and was replaced by a drawing of a face, but with eyes missing their pupils. Then, pupils appeared in the eyes, looking either left or right. Finally, a small, round target would appear either on the left or right side of the face drawing.

Dodd said the participants were told that the gaze cues in the study did not predict where the target would appear, so there was no reason for participants to attend to them. "But the nature of social interaction tends to make it very difficult to ignore the cues, even when they're meaningless," he said.

As soon as they saw the target, participants would tap the space bar on their keyboard, giving researchers information on their susceptibility to the "gaze cues." Each sequence, which lasted a few hundred milliseconds, was repeated hundreds of times.

Afterward, participants were surveyed on their beliefs on a range of political issues to establish their political ideology.

In addition to shedding light on the differences between the two political camps, researchers said the results add to growing indications that suggest biology plays a role determining one's political direction. Previous UNL research has delved into the physiology of political orientation, showing that those highly responsive to threatening images are likely to support defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War.

Traditionally, political scientists have accounted for political differences purely in terms of environmental forces, but this study shows the potential role of cognitive biases – wherever they may come from – as a relevant area of future research.

"Getting things done in politics typically depends on competing viewpoints finding common ground," Smith said. "Our research is suggesting that's a lot tougher than it sounds, because the same piece of ground can look very different depending on which ideological hill you view it from."

Explore further: Study shows how toddlers adjust to adult anger

More information: The study is in a forthcoming edition of the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics and is authored by UNL's Dodd, Smith and John R. Hibbing.

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User comments : 23

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_nigmatic10
2 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2010
The study itself is highly suspicious. Depending on the survey given, forced variances in choices will give a predetermined result. Also, the extremely small study group in a demographically restricted manner was a bad idea, and raises many red flags for possible bias opinions. Political "scientists" eh? More like a junk study done on a lunch break in a cafeteria.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (11) Dec 09, 2010
Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.


Very roundabout way of saying: Conservatives have less empathy.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2010
Implicit Association Testing discovers conservative skepticism - in an extremely parochial and small sample. I think they're on to something. It used to be 'they're lying if their lips move', now their eye movements belie sincerity.
Donutz
4.8 / 5 (5) Dec 09, 2010
I'm interested in what would happen with someone who went from one side to the other over the course of their life. Would their gaze cue reactions change?
SkiSci
5 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2010
Conclusion:

The conservatives figured the faces were "leading them on" a.k.a. eye fu*cking them. Those married or whom disapproved of homosexuality quickly subdued their reactions as to not appear liberal

Science, it works
EdMoore
2.2 / 5 (5) Dec 09, 2010
"Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts."

Which means that conservatives are less fooled by slick talking, grandiose-speaking demagogues.
Merak
4.5 / 5 (6) Dec 09, 2010
Ed, also less able to learn from others.
SkiSci
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 09, 2010
"Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts."

Which means that conservatives are less fooled by slick talking, grandiose-speaking demagogues.


Exactly. Iraq War and WMD, case in point
pauljpease
3 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2010
Finally, scientists are beginning to realize that there are gorilla's in our midst. Lol. I've often advocated for classification of humans into different subspecies. Old-way humans, homo sapiens sapiens (meaning "wise wise man", so wise they can't think of a second adjective, hahaha), and new-way humans, perhaps homo sapiens varius (meaning "changing wise man").
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (6) Dec 09, 2010
I'm interested in what would happen with someone who went from one side to the other over the course of their life. Would their gaze cue reactions change?
Yes they would, and do.
Which means that conservatives are less fooled by slick talking, grandiose-speaking demagogues.
Means that once they make up their mind, nothing, including facts will ever change it.

ie: we'll keep the tax cuts, and keep the spending, that'll balance the budget!
ArtflDgr
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 09, 2010
Very roundabout way of saying: Conservatives have less empathy.

no... thats not what Empathy means...

they are less gullible to being manipulated by an other

ergo, why socialism, ends up despotic... why now theya re discovering that the image they elected is not what they thought...

ie, they went on image not substance, cues, not facts...

after all, only the gullible would believe the enslavement was a solution for anything, and that enslavement is really some other social good...
VOR
4 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2010
conservatives are better at looking out for themselves at the expense of others. Liberals are better at looking out for everyone as a whole. This is just plain fact, though not yet widely accepted of course. Conservatives DO have less empathy. And no, they are not less gullable. They have been measured as being more paranoid.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2010
they are less gullible to being manipulated by an other

You must be a very lonely and fearful person if you think that the interactions that take place between two people are pirmarily composed of manipulation.
after all, only the gullible would believe the enslavement was a solution for anything, and that enslavement is really some other social good...
You mean like the religious?
Birger
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
I doubt a highly complex trait (viewing the world in a conservative or liberal way) can be strongly correlated to something this simple. Also, as has been mentioned, a lot of people change their political views over time.
There might be a weak correlation by indirect causes, but IO want to see much more research before I am convinced.
CSharpner
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
Means that once they make up their mind, nothing, including facts will ever change it.

That's what both sides think of each other. I don't believe that's either a left-wing or a right-wing fault. I believe it's a "human" fault.

ie: we'll keep the tax cuts, and keep the spending, that'll balance the budget!

Speaking as a Conservative, I can whole-heartedly say that we are NOT in favor of keeping the spending. :)
CSharpner
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
conservatives are better at looking out for themselves at the expense of others. Liberals are better at looking out for everyone as a whole. This is just plain fact


No. In short, Conservative look out for everyone's personal liberty at the expense of some equal distribution of resources. Liberals look out for equal distribution of resources at the expense of some personal liberty. Neither world view is wrong.

Though, both are made up of imperfect humans who can't stay 100% consistent on these values, so look hard enough and you can find in anyone, discrepancies, which lead to political arguments trying to prove one person or side or the other as dishonest. While few people are very dishonest and most people are a little dishonest, neither world view is wrong or evil.

Both value liberty and resources. They just have them in different orders of priority. Neither side is evil and neither side is any "better" than the other. They just see differing value in resources vs. liberty.
CSharpner
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
What a field day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street,
Singing songs and carrying signs,
Mostly say, “Hooray for our side.”
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

'nuff said.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
Speaking as a Conservative, I can whole-heartedly say that we are NOT in favor of keeping the spending. :)
Then why the hell are you voting for people who are?
(communal you, not a personal you)
CSharpner
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
Speaking as a Conservative, I can whole-heartedly say that we are NOT in favor of keeping the spending. :)


Then why the hell are you voting for people who are?
(communal you, not a personal you)

We don't (at least, not intentionally). It's what we call the "Washington effect". Something about staying in that town drains people of the reason they were sent there. It's most disturbing and one of the triggering forces of the Tea Party movement.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2010
It's most disturbing and one of the triggering forces of the Tea Party movement.

Who have requested over 1 billion in earmarks.

http://nation.fox...earmarks

Particular source used to show lack of anti-TEA bias.
CarolinaScotsman
not rated yet Dec 11, 2010
What the study shows is that psychologists are extremely adept at producing theories explaining human behaviour that may or may not have any relation to reality. Did they test for any differentiating traits besides what they considered political differences? How did they select the test subjects. What are the political beliefs of the researchers. Too many variables and too many possibilities for bias for this to be a reliable study of anything.
SDMike
3 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2010
Interesting how this "discussion" demonstrates the finding.
CSharpner
not rated yet Dec 15, 2010
Who have requested over 1 billion in earmarks.

Aaand they will have some splainin' to do!

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