Liberal? Conservative? Stanford study says mental nudge can make voters flip-flop

Jul 02, 2009 BY ADAM GORLICK
Christopher Bryan, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology

(PhysOrg.com) -- No doubt you’ve worked hard for your success. But chances are you’ve also had some help and lucky breaks along the way.

So are you more likely to vote for conservative or liberal politicians and causes?

A group of Stanford psychologists say most people can be swayed toward either the right or left depending on whether they’re prompted to think about the payoff of their own hard work or the good fortune that has smiled upon them.

When they’re asked to focus on the qualities of self-reliance and hard work, they’re more likely to express conservative viewpoints. And when they zero in on things like luck and opportunity, they come out more liberal.

It turns out some voters can flip-flop just as fast as any politician. All they need is a little push.

The reason, the researchers say in a paper posted online and slated for publication in the , is that most Americans can see both sides of an issue and understand that a combination of hard work and good fortune play important roles in success.

“Whether they identify themselves as liberal or conservative, many people are capable and perfectly willing to share the perspective of the other side,” said Christopher Bryan, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology who spearheaded the study. “It’s just a matter of prompting them to do so.”

In one experiment, Bryan and his fellow researchers had a group of Stanford students write short essays about how hard work, self-discipline and wise decisions helped get them into the university. Another group was told to write about the roles that chance, opportunity and help from others played in their admission.

After the two groups were prompted to think in those terms, they filled out a questionnaire gauging their opinions on welfare, education, taxes, health care, and and . Those whose essays focused on personal merit ranked more conservatively than the students who wrote about the benefits of good fortune.

A second experiment reached the same conclusion.

Although the findings don’t show that people can be pushed in a lasting manner from one end of the political spectrum to the other, the study indicates most people are flexible when thinking about social issues. And it shows how even a temporary change in mindset can make a big difference when a voter heads to the polls.

Consider a ballot measure asking for an expansion of welfare benefits. If a voter is thinking about the important role of good fortune and help from others in most people’s lives, he’s more likely to see the measure as legitimate, the findings suggest.

But present that issue to the same voter when he is thinking about the value of hard work and self-reliance and he is likely to feel differently.

“The way people think about issues at any given moment is a function of what’s salient to them in that moment,” Bryan said. “Most people realize that political attitudes change over a long period of time, but there hasn’t been as much acknowledgement in conventional wisdom or in psychology that people’s political views can change from moment to moment. But they do.”

Provided by Stanford University (news : web)

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Voters show paradoxical views of political mavericks

Oct 27, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Republican Senator John McCain has staked his bid for the U.S. presidency on his reputation as a “political maverick,” a politician who is unafraid to cross party lines to “vote his conscience” on ...

Visual Imagery Technique Boosts Voting, Study Finds

Oct 19, 2006

Registered voters who used a simple visual imagery technique the evening before the 2004 election were significantly more likely to vote the next day, a new study found. It was all a matter of the visual perspective people ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Gammakozy
2 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2009
Nothing surprising about the results - merely another validation of the effects of cognitive dissonance. What I find interesting, however, is what characeristics are viewed by the author as opposite equivalents. Pitting hard work, self-discipline and wise decisions against chance, opportunity and help from others is not a design of balanced opposites. As charitable donation statistics
consistently demonstrate, conservatives as a group appreciate their good fortune and are eager to help those who have less or have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. What they find hard to tolerate is when individuals refuse to even try to help themselves but instead expect the government (meaning taxpayers) to look after them and/or refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions.

So the properly balanced conservative vs. liberal paradigm should be:

CONSERVATIVE: Hard work, Self-Discipline and Wise Decisions vs.
LIBERAL: Laziness, Irresponsibility and Stupidity.

Now that would make for an interesting, and telling study.
VOR
3 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2009
azzhole. Conservative: Intolerant (racially, sexually, gay rights etc), paranoid (war-monger), hypocritical, selfish, pro-rich, incapable of empathy. They think people with health problems or without access to quality education 'just arent trying hard enough'.What an incredibly ignorant attitude. And then there is the ignorant righteousness of pro-life. For many years, the more corrupt and hypocritical party. Liberal: community minded (best-for-country, not just the rich), pro-education, pro-healthcare.
tamago
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2009
From the Anti-Defamation League:



White supremacists and neo-Nazi hate groups plan to take advantage of the anti-tax "Tea Parties" set to occur in more than 1,000 cities and localities over the July 4 holiday weekend to disseminate racist fliers and other materials and attempt to recruit others to their cause, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).



ADL's Center on Extremism, which monitors extremist groups and provides information to law enforcement and the public, has released information on its Web site describing the attempt by white supremacists to co-opt the anti-tax message of the events as a means to spread racism and anti-Semitism.



On Stormfront, the most popular white supremacist Internet forum, members have discussed becoming local organizers of the "Tea Parties" and finding ways to involve themselves in the events. Many racists have voiced their intent to attend these rallies for the purpose of cultivating an "organized grassroots White mass movement," with some suggesting that they would do so without openly identifying themselves as racists.
rue
3 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2009
It is frustrating to see the Liberal point of view repeatedly misrepresented by so called conservatives (see Gammakozy for example). Liberals are not for giving free rides to anyone. Liberals support a strong educational system to give everyone a chance. Liberals support full employment, and that every job should deserve a living wage. Even the most menial jobs must be done by somebody. Liberals do not support giving advantages to the wealthy and well connected through the tax code or unreasonable salary contracts, nor through their ability to buy high powered lobbyists. Furthermore, liberals are opposed to the development of and continuation of an aristocracy which is one thing our war for independence was about. Liberals believe that we each have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to the society which makes a good life possible.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.