PLOS offers another bit of evidence that political preferences might have their genesis at low-level cognitive processes:
Liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.
Here are more attempts to tie political persuasion to lower level phenomena.
My relationship with the Boy Scouts of America was not the most pleasant. I was an oddity, to be sure. I think I was at one time the only—only—second class scout to be a patrol leader. Second class. For those who may not have been through the quasi-military organization, the way it was structured in […]
The 2012 Missouri primary had several important lessons to impart. The first, which I may have discussed in previous election years, is that the way to bring the “correct” voters to the polls is to have an apparently innocuous but important candidate or issue and a loud, contentious issue or candidate that only seems to matter to one side.
In this primary cycle, there was a preponderance of hotly contested Republican seats, and a very dangerous, never advertised Tea Party constitutional amendment. Republicans came out to vote overwhelmingly, and the Amendment passed resoundingly.
The full body of the amendment is at the bottom of this article.
Basically on the ballot it read as if it was just reinforcing the first clause of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- In reality, it says that people have the right to worship the (singular, Christian) Almighty God (but not all those others) including to pray whenever their conscience dictates (such as during science classes).
- Public meetings can now be started with exclusionary prayers as long as the officiant is invited by someone.
- I have not yet figured out how the mandatory publishing of the Bill of Rights in schools will be twisted, but I expect as a precedent to posting the Ten Commandments adjacent (as an alleged inspirational source)
- Students cannot be punished for refusing to do assignments that might conflict with their faith (evolution, geology, astronomy, etc).
So I expect Missouri to soon be incurring legal fees on the order of replacing several major bridges, or (more likely) in lieu of funding science education for a decade.
[More (Including the language of the Amendment)]
A recent experiment demonstrates that synchronous actions knit the social fabric:
The results were striking: the simple act of tapping one’s hands in synchrony with another caused our participants to report feeling more similar to their partners and to have greater compassion for their plight: it increased the number of people who helped their partner by 31 percent and increased the average time spent helping from one minute to more than seven.
What these results suggest is that the compassion we feel for others is not solely a function of what befalls them: if our minds draw an association between a victim and ourselves — even a relatively trivial one — the compassion we feel for his or her suffering is amplified greatly.
Civilpolitics.org has a mission to use rigorous science to help others, including politicians, to get along. The mission is “to help you find academic scholarship that illuminates the causes and consequences of political civility and incivility.”
And here’s more, from the “Moral Psychology” page:
At CivilPolitics, most (but not all) of us believe that direct appeals to people to behave civilly will have very limited effects. We take a more social-psychological approach to the problem of intergroup conflict. We are more interested in legal, systemic, and policy changes that will, for example, change the ways that the “teams” are drawn up (e.g., in elections), and supported (e.g., financially). We want to change the playing field and the rules of the game, in the hopes that players in the future (citizens as well as politicians) will be less likely to demonize each other, mischaracterize each others’ motives, and refuse (on moral grounds) to engage in negotiations, interactions, and cooperative enterprises that would serve the nation’s interests.
Check out the “Social Psychology” page, which contains this advice (with lots of explanatory links).
Contrary to what so many of us want to believe, humans are not wired to act only as individuals; we are also wired to be intensely social. In his March 14, 2012 TED presentation, Jonathan Haidt characterized humans as half-bee. We aren’t completely socially integrated like bees–our social side clashes with our individualistic side. These two aspects of what it means to be human—our proud individualism and our craving to meld our selves with each other in large social groupings–often conflict with each other. As a result, human “hives” (the many types of human social groupings) don’t run as smoothly as the hives of true bees. Haidt argues that the scientific study of this inner-conflict offers us powerful insights into such things as religion, existential angst and warmongering.
Haidt began his 18-minute talk by asking for a show of hands. How many people in the audience consider themselves to be “religious?” Only a few raised their hands, yet a strong majority of the audience members declared themselves to be “spiritual.” Why is it that that so many people who don’t consider themselves to be religious do consider themselves to be spiritual?
[More . . .]
Whenever you engage in high level discussions, many of the points made by you and your opponents are founded on claims that some things are “relevant” to other things. Those who engage in arguments usually make it sounds like “relevance” is an objective concept, almost algorithmic. They often suggest that what is relevant can be clearly determined by necessary and sufficient conditions. They make it sound as though all reasonable people would come to the same conclusions about what is (and is not) relevant, if only they pondered long enough. It is my position there is no meaningful simple definition of “relevance” in any real world field (the concept works in math and logic).
This is how I used to think many years ago. Now, however, I am convinced that what is “relevant” is always a matter of the emotional tuning of the person claiming relevance. No, it’s not a completely subjective measure, given that we all inhabit human bodies and thus have a shared basis for our observations. But neither is it an objective measure, applying to all people at all times.
What is relevant to morality? Tradition, upbringing, what the powers-that-be decree, logic, distribution of resources, the Bible, the Koran, whatever comes clear through personal meditation, patriotism, sustainability, or what respects personal liberties? We humans are tuned in a million different ways. Perhaps if we were all tuned the same, we could speak of some objective concept of relevance, but that is not the case. Also, add to the nuance of the word “relevant” that humans are incredibly symbolic, meaning that they have the power and imagination to make anything at all meaningful to anything else. We can even turn meaning upside down, in Orwellian fashion. What is “relevant”? What do you want to be relevant?
My views are quite sympathetic to notion (of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson) of experientialism: Namely, that the verbal expression of the facts of life is, at bottom, indeterminate despite our most persistent attempts to capture them with language (which often border on the heroic). Most people nevertheless have faith in “objectivity,” (e.g., that “relevance” refers to necessary and sufficient conditions). People cling to objectivism because, perceiving no middle ground, they fear that the only alternative is a free fall to nihilism. They cling not to just any “objectivity,” of course, but their own version of objectivity. Experientialism makes a strong case in showing the “objective” use of language to be a myth: there is no such thing as abstract and disembodied thought. Truly “objective” thought would require the impossible: a “logical propositional trajectory from principle to concrete application.”
Under the cover of “objectivism,” however, the widely-shared meanings of concepts have always been grounded in and constrained by our widely-shared biological, cognitive, social, and linguistic interactions. These interactions, which constitute our bodily existences, extend imaginatively and metaphorically to give what substance there is to high-level concepts. “Objectivity,” as used in the context of legal decision-making (and elsewhere), can exist only to the extent that these interactions are widely shared. It must not be overlooked that such interactions are widely shared, enabling extensive meaningful communication, even among people of divergent languages and cultures. No radical deconstruction of language is being suggested.
I am always on high alert when someone makes an argument, indicating that something is “relevant,” much less “highly relevant.” Whenever such a claim occurs, it is time to puncture the bubble and force the participants to put their emotional baggage on the table, as best they can. There is no other way to have a meaningful conversation regarding contentious topics.
Here’s what Glenn Greenwald has to say about the way we characterize the motives of Americans who kill others versus others who kill Americans:
Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivated U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to allegedly kill 16 Afghans, including 9 children: he was drunk, he was experiencing financial stress, he was passed over for a promotion, he had a traumatic brain injury, he had marital problems, he suffered from the stresses of four tours of duty, he “saw his buddy’s leg blown off the day before the massacre,” etc. Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivates Muslims to kill Americans: they are primitive, fanatically religious, hateful Terrorists.
Although Greenwald doesn’t analyze it in such terms, this is the classic ingroup-outgroup effect. For ingroup members, we make excuses. For members of outgroups, we pour on the venom. Most Americans are repulsed by the idea that we would actually try to understand the “terrorists'” actions by trying the see the world through their eyes. What is that viewpoint? Greenwald offers some ideas:
[T]hey’re responding to American violence in their country; they are traumatized and angry at the continuous deaths of Muslim children and innocent adults; they’ve calculated that striking at Americans is the only way to deter further American aggression in their part of the world.
I had posted on this Psyblog list before: “Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies.” I re-read it this morning. It would seem to be a good article for all people to read before voting. It’s important for each of us to know how our brains work before assuming that we are voting with “free will.” We often act on the basis of invisible social pressures. It’s not a good idea to simply declare that we are “rational” without examining these (and many other) vulnerabilities and biases. Here are the studies summarized in the Psyblog article:
- The Halo Effect: When Your Own Mind is a Mystery
- How and Why We Lie to Ourselves: Cognitive Dissonance
- War, Peace and the Role of Power in Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment
- Our Dark Hearts: The Stanford Prison Experiment
- Just Following Orders? Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment
- Why We All Stink as Intuitive Psychologists: The False Consensus Bias
- Why Groups and Prejudices Form So Easily: Social Identity Theory
- How to Avoid a Bad Bargain: Don’t Threaten
- Why We Don’t Help Others: Bystander Apathy
- I Can’t Believe My Eyes: Conforming to the Norm