Political attitudes are predicted by physiological traits

Is America's red-blue divide based on voters' physiology? A new paper in the journal Science, titled "Political Attitudes Are Predicted by Physiological Traits," explores the link.

Rice University's John Alford, associate professor of political science, co-authored the paper in the Sept. 19 issue of Science.

Alford and his colleagues studied a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs. Those individuals with "measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War," the authors wrote.

Participants were chosen randomly over the phone in Lincoln, Neb. Those expressing strong political views -- regardless of their content -- were asked to fill out a questionnaire on their political beliefs, personality traits and demographic characteristics.

In a later session, they were attached to physiological measuring equipment and shown three threatening images (a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face and an open wound with maggots in it) interspersed among a sequence of 33 images. Similarly, participants also viewed three nonthreatening images (a bunny, a bowl of fruit and a happy child) placed within a series of other images. A second test used auditory stimuli to measure involuntary responses to a startling noise.

The researchers noted a correlation between those who reacted strongly to the stimuli and those who expressed support for "socially protective policies," which tend to be held by people "particularly concerned with protecting the interests of the participants' group, defined as the United States in mid-2007, from threats." These positions include support for military spending, warrantless searches, the death penalty, the Patriot Act, obedience, patriotism, the Iraq War, school prayer and Biblical truth, and opposition to pacifism, immigration, gun control, foreign aid, compromise, premarital sex, gay marriage, abortion rights and pornography.

The paper concluded, "Political attitudes vary with physiological traits linked to divergent manners of experiencing and processing environmental threats." This may help to explain "both the lack of malleability in the beliefs of individuals with strong political convictions and the associated ubiquity of political conflict," the authors said.

Source: Rice University

Explore further

How do emotions change our political attitudes?

Citation: Political attitudes are predicted by physiological traits (2008, September 18) retrieved 20 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2008-09-political-attitudes-physiological-traits.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 18, 2008
So the incautious with little or no sense of danger tend to be liberal? Hmmm.... The Soviets tried to pathologize political leanings as well.

Sep 18, 2008
How does this theory explain libertarians, who oppose foreign aide, support liberal immigration policies, oppose the initiation of the use of force, support the Second Amendment, oppose military adventurism, may or may not support capital punishment and are typically patriotic (even if they don't feel compelled to wear it on their sleeves), and generally oppose the Iraq war? They don't seem to fit into the sedate==liberal nervous==conservative dichotomy.

Sep 18, 2008
Who cares about attitudes, the truth is what is important. Statism/collectivism is an illogical concept. A country does not exist but an individual does. Any political system that moves away from individual freedom is irrational.

Sep 18, 2008
"How does this theory explain libertarians,"

It doesnt....

Some are sheep, some are scared, and some are aware(libertarians).

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